An Israel Prisons Service parole board rejected Wednesday a plea for the early release of former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav, after delaying the decision twice in the past week. His attorney said the decision would be appealed.
After deliberating for over two hours, the board decided unanimously to turn down the request.
The board spent 11 hours last week reviewing Katsav’s case at a hearing during which the ex-president, at times in tears, made an effort to persuade its members to shave off one-third of his seven-year sentence while continuing to maintain his innocence.
Katsav, 70, was convicted on December 30, 2010, on two counts of rape, among other charges. He began serving his sentence in December 2011, and is slated for release in December 2018.
In citing the reasons for its decision, the board noted that Katsav continues to deny that he is guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted and to only care about his own condition and not that of his victims.
“In front of us is a prisoner who denies the crimes that he committed, who continues to claim his innocence, despite the court ruling in his matter, and continues to spend time trying to prove his innocence, as though there had been no legal process,” the decision read.
“The board took note that the prisoner sees himself as a victim … and is busy solely with himself, his needs, his loss, and the price that he and his family have paid. Even in light of questions from the board, the prisoner didn’t show regret and/or empathy for the victims of the crime, but once again noted the heavy price he has paid and is paying,” it continued.
The board also noted it took into consideration opposition from Katsav’s victims to the release, as well as various opinions from rehabilitation treatment experts.
Attorney Zion Amir said after the announcement that the former president would appeal the decision and continue to fight to clear his name, suggesting the board had been swayed by public sentiment against Katsav.
“I very much regret that in our society decision makers are enslaved to outside moods that bring out decisions like this,” Amir said.
Katsav can make another plea for parole in six months’ time.
The decision to keep Katsav in jail was met with praise from many public officials and victims groups.
“This is a clear message to society that the justice system will not tolerate at any level any disregard for crimes against women, especially if the culprit is a senior public figure,” said MK Aida Touma Sliman (Joint List), who heads the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. “There is no parole board that can deduct one third of the pain from the women that Katzav hurt.”
Katsav, who has served four years and four months, had told his close friends that he was “not especially optimistic” that he would be granted the early release, according to Channel 2 news.
At the parole board hearing last Sunday, Katsav continued to maintain his innocence, as he has throughout his trial and prison term.
Speaking at that hearing, a representative of the Justice Ministry expressed the ministry’s opposition to Katsav’s early release. Katsav had not proven “he was worthy of an early release,” primarily due to his continued refusal to accept the court’s verdict and take responsibility for his crimes, the state representative said. He has also refused to undergo rehabilitation programs in the prison, he said.
Last week’s hearing was expected to produce a decision, but board members asked to delay the decision until this week. A second date, set for Sunday, was also pushed off.
The parole request triggered a firestorm of criticism, including from lawmakers and at least one of Katsav’s victims.
If he went free, “it would be unprecedented in Israel, and would send a very negative message, both about women and about sex offenders,” Odelia Karmon, who was assaulted by Katsav in the early 1990s, told Army Radio last week.
Karmon worked with the former president when he served as transportation minister from 1988 to 1992.
Early parole is very common in the Israeli prison system, with a majority of prisoners managing to obtain the standard one-third reduction to their sentence for good behavior. In Katsav’s case, the parole board will have to determine whether he constitutes a danger to the public and meets the “good behavior” requirements.
The Prisons Service says his behavior as a prisoner has been above reproach.
Katsav can still appeal for a pardon by President Reuven Rivlin. The two are former Likud colleagues who served in the Knesset together for years before Katsav won the presidency.
Stuart Winer, Raoul Wootliff and Dov Lieber contributed to this report.