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Katzir Clarifies Pardon for Former Banker Who Served 2 of 12-year Sentence

President Ephraim Katzir issued a statement aimed at clarifying the pardon he signed last week for former banker Yehoshua Benzion who was released from prison Thursday after serving two years of a 12-year sentence for embezzlement. The President’s statement said that “under the law this is not a pardon but rather a reduction in punishment” and that he had been considering it during the tenure of the previous government because of the prisoner’s health.

The storm of criticism that greeted Benzion’s release was directed mainly at Premier Menachem Begin who had recommended a pardon on health grounds. It has not abated in the wake of Katzir’s explanation. The President’s statement said that the IL 25 million fine imposed on Benzion after his 1975 conviction for stealing $47 million from the Israel-British Bank is still in effect although his prison term has been reduced to a suspended sentence. But to date, Benzion has not paid any part of the fine and has not returned the embezzled $47 million or any part of it.

Political figures who accused Begin of favoritism toward Benzion were joined by leading jurists today. Former Supreme Court Justice Zvi Berinsohn warned that a “pardon industry” is developing “and things are getting ridiculous.” He said the power of pardon should be used only in exceptional cases and charged that it was misused in the Benzion case.

The pardon was also criticized by Justice Yoel Sussman, President of the Supreme Court who had personally rejected Benzion’s appeals for pardon in the past. Attorney General Aharon Barak said he had objected when he first learned of Begin’s intention to recommend clemency.

Katzir’s statement said that he based his decision on the medical opinions of two senior physicians who had treated Benzion in prison and on the report of a medical opinions of two senior physicians who had treated Benzion in prison and on the report of a medical committee appointed by the Health Ministry to investigate Benzion’s condition. The statement failed to mention that the medical committee had recommended against a pardon.