State Prosecutor Eran Shendar
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Former president Moshe Katsav
Photo: Gadi Cablo
State Prosecutor Eran Shendar warned on Friday that the plea bargain between former President Moshe Katsav and the prosecution would be scrapped if Katsav did not plead guilty to the sexual harassment charges leveled at him by former female employees.
Speaking to Army Radio soon after Katsav submitted his resignation, Shendar admitted the plea bargain had shortcomings but said it nevertheless pushed Katsav to resign and demanded he plead guilty.
"And I am also saying, loud and clear, that if the president does not turn up at court and admit that he committed these sex crimes as tourism minister , and even if he doesn't admit to doing anything at the presidential residence, if he does not say 'this is what I did,' there will be no plea bargain," Shendar told Army Radio.
"Plea bargains usually get criticized, as the Supreme Court has said more than once: it is the lesser evil, but none-the-less – evil," Shendar said.
"I am trying to talk now about its positive points. One of these points is that less than an hour ago the president took responsibility, for the first time, and gave in his resignation. He will make his admission today and not two years from now, or later," he added.
Under the plea bargain the prosecution dropped rape charges against Katsav in return for his admission to lesser sexual offenses.
Complainant slams plea deal
During a press conference on Thursday, complainant A criticized the plea bargain and called upon women who had been sexually assaulted to "take it to the grave" and not file a complaint, but to see a therapist instead.
Shendar partly agreed with what she said: "I join A's plea with other women to go to a psychologist, because this is a trauma, a terrible trauma. However, I want to add a message that they should also go to the police."
"We are obligated to scrutinize the case and see if we have a reasonable likelihood of getting a conviction. There were discrepancies in statements of people that A herself sent us to interview. They had said that they heard her say other things to what she had told us," he said.
Shendar concluded by saying that he did not believe Katsav would plead guilty without having committed the crimes, only to make things easier for his family. "I find it hard to believe that a president would resign and agree to a harsh indictment for a felony if he didn't do the deeds.
Only one day after signing the plea bargain that caused commotion among the public, Katsav handed in his letter of resignation on Friday as agreed with the prosecution.
According to the agreement, Katsav will stand trial for crimes of indecent assault, will pay the victims compensation but will not serve jail time. Two weeks from now president elect Shimon Peres will be sworn in. Until then, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik will continue serving as acting president.
Various women's organizations are planning a rally Saturday evening in protest at the plea bargain. The demonstration will be titled "The president's dignity has been salvaged, it's time to rescue ours." The protest will kick off at 7:30 pm at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.