Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has decided to recuse himself from former president Moshe Katsav’s appeal for clemency due to a conflict of interest. Katsav, who was convicted of rape, had in the past approached Neeman for legal advice on the case.

In 2006, when he was still residing in the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Katsav consulted with Ne’eman, at the time a private lawyer, about how to deal with what he called an attempt at blackmail through accusations of sexual harassment, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Monday.

Neeman advised Katsav to file a complaint with the attorney-general at the time, Menachem Mazuz, which he did. The investigation spiraled into a series of allegations from several women against Katsav, who was eventually convicted in 2010 on two counts of rape and additional crimes of indecent acts and sexual harassment.

In 2011, the former president was sentenced to seven years and since then has been waging a campaign to get out of Ma’asiyahu prison, where he is serving out his sentence.

Former president Moshe Katsav leaves the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on November 10, 2011 after being found guilty of rape. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/ Flash90)

Former president Moshe Katsav leaves the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on November 10, 2011 after being found guilty of rape. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/ Flash90)

In May 2012, Katsav lost an appeal for a retrial, leaving clemency as his only option for an early release. In October 2012 he appealed to President Shimon Peres for a pardon; however, before Peres can examine the plea, it must be approved by the Justice Ministry.

Katsav, who continues to protest his innocence and has never publicly expressed remorse for his crime, has asked to be released from prison because, he claims, he wasn’t given a fair trial.

With Neeman having disqualified himself, the task now falls on outgoing minister Benny Begin, who is in charge of deliberating clemency cases that present a conflict of interest to the justice minister. Begin is expected to base his ruling on the recommendations of the Justice Ministry panel that advises on clemency pleas.

The panel, however, is set against granting Katsav his freedom.

Reportedly, among the reasons for the panel’s resistance is the fact that clemency bids are usually only launched after a prisoner has served a third of his sentence. In addition, in order to receive a pardon, prisoners must display remorse for their actions and, in the case of sex offenders, attend a Prison Service rehabilitation course, neither of which the former president has done. The offender’s victims are also entitled to give their written opinion before clemency is considered.

“The ink hasn’t even dried on the High Court decision that ruled in 2012 that there is no reason to conduct a re-trial of the case,” a source involved in the matter told the paper.