VIDEO - The High Court of Justice rejected Tuesday morning, with a three to two majority, the petitions filed against former President Moshe Katsav's plea bargain, thus endorsing the deal signed between the president and the State Prosecution in June 2007.
Under the plea agreement signed with the former president, Katsav agreed to plead guilty to sexual harassment, indecent assault and harassing a witness in exchange for dropping the rape charges from the ongoing case against him.
Justices Ayala Procaccia, Asher Grunis and Eliezer Rivlin decided to reject the petitions, while Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish and Justice Edmond Levy supported annulling the plea bargain.
The court's majority opinion stated that the attorney general's decision to sign a plea bargain with the former president "was based on circumstantial evidence. Although there were flaws in the attorney general's conduct in this affair, the petitions should be rejected, in the absence of sufficient cause to interfere with his judgment."
According to Justice Rivlin, the petitions failed to substantiate the improbability of the deal.
High Court: Five judges, two opinions (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
However, according to the court's minority opinion, "The pleas bargain stands in stark opposition to public interest and requires the interference of the court." Justice Beinish stressed that there were "significant flaws" in the deal.
In a first response to the ruling, Katsav's attorney, Zion Amir said, "We insist that the offenses have never constituted moral turpitude… if the ruling represents a violation of Katsav's fundamental rights – we may have to reconsider our stance on the matter."
Amir's associate Attorney Avi Lavi added," We are pleased, but we certainly intend to study the nuances of the ruling, and it's quite possible that we will decide to reconsider the plea bargain. If we see references pertaining to moral turpitude, I believe that the final word has not been said in this matter yet."
Attorney Shai Nitzan, the deputy state prosecutor, welcomed the ruling, saying that "the court has endorsed the State's stance on all the major issues."
Meanwhile, Attorney Kinneret Barashi, who represented complainant A in the case against Katsav, claimed that "this is a dark day for the judicial system, a dark day for us citizens. The revolution that has taken place in recent years with regards to sex offenses against women has gone down the drain, although the attorney general was harshly criticized."
Barashi added, "This is the first Israeli president to be convicted of serious sex offenses, although throughout the case he maintained he didn't do it – he was willing to admit to sex offenses. The lenience, because this is a public figure, is unacceptable."
Attorney Eliad Shraga of the Movement for Quality Government, which filed one of the petitions against the plea deal, said he was gravely disappointed with the court's decision. "Once more it was proved that equality before the law doesn't exist – there are those who are worth more and those who are worth less.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's not over till it's over. We plan to study the ruling."
The judges' ruling on the matter was the last procedure in the case, after the High Court's decision in July 2007 to issue an injunction against the plea bargain with the former president.
The court demanded that Mazuz explain the reasons which led to the discrepancies between the plea deal and the draft indictment released several months earlier.
Mazuz's initial draft indictment,
which was release on April 2007, included 36 different charges, including rape offenses allegedly committed by the State of Israel's eighth presidents between 1999 and 2000.
Several months later, the Justice Ministry decided to sign a plea bargain with the former president, which charged Katsav with relatively light offenses of "hugging and caressing".