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Israeli Newspaper Ha´aretz, Internet Edition, February 26, 2001:

French media portray Israel as "criminal's Eden"

By Anat Cygielman

Ha'aretz Correspondent 

 

PARIS - One of the French television channels broadcast a program about Israel last week entitled "Israel - a criminal's paradise?" The timing was not coincidental. Last week, the trial in the Sentier Affair began, in which 124 traders from the Sentier textile district in Paris - most of them Jews of Tunisian descent - are charged with defrauding 33 banks and insurance companies of $77 million in the late 1990s, using a "pyramid" scheme.

During the first day of the trial, the French prosecutor, Francois Franchy, alleged that Israel had assisted some of the suspects who fled to Israel following the first wave of arrests in 1997. Among those interviewed in the television program was Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, a former MK who was tried and convicted in Israel after confessing to defrauding a French company.

In the same context, the French media have repeatedly mentioned the inclusion of Israel, in June 2000, in an international blacklist of 15 countries that are not cooperating in the war against money-laundering. (Other countries on this list include Russia, Libya and Liechtenstein.)

The prosecutor in the Sentier Affair claimed that despite the fact that Israel is a signatory to an international extradition pact, it failed to live up to its commitment to hunt down the fugitives wanted in France in this case. By "intentionally" pursuing this policy, the prosecutor contended, "Israel removed itself from the family of nations."

According to the indictment, one of the main suspects in the case - Chaim Weizman, nicknamed Albert - fled to Israel with 150 million francs in cash. In an interview with Le Parisien from his Israeli hideout, Weizman said that the sum was much smaller.

The Justice Ministry vehemently denies that the Law of Return allows criminals to take refuge in Israel. Following the case of Samuel Sheinbein, a dual American-Israeli citizen who fled to Israel to escape murder charges in the United States, the Knesset amended the extradition law in order to prevent such incidents. According to Justice Ministry spokesman Ido Baum, Israel is one of the only countries in the world that extradites its citizens for trial abroad, but under one condition: if the extradited Israeli suspect is convicted, he will be allowed to serve his sentence in an Israeli prison. France, on the other hand, never extradites French citizens for trial in another country.

So, why didn't Israel extradite the seven suspects wanted by France in the Sentier Affair? A number of these suspects are apparently Israelis of long standing, while others took out Israeli citizenship after fleeing France. According to Israel, it signed the uropean convention on extradition under the condition that vidence would be attached to extradition requests. Evidence was not included with the seven French extradition requests.

A year ago, a French delegation visited Israel and received instruction on how to submit a complete extradition request required by Israel. But the French failed to re-submit revised extradition requests, according to the director of the international department at the Justice Ministry, Irit Kahan. "Unfortunately, they have no one to blame but themselves," she says in response to the contentions of the French prosecutor.

The French look askance at this reply, which the Justice Ministry insists that it is not merely a formal excuse: "We could not approach the courts to ask for the arrest of the suspects based on the extradition requests submitted. They would not have stood the test of Israeli law."

Are the seven suspects really in Israel? As long as satisfactory extradition requests are not filed, Israel is not searching for them. Technically, it would not be difficult to track them down, sources say, unless they left Israel in the wake of the recent publicity.

The French claim that the seven suspects who took refuge in Israel are key members of the fraud scheme, but meanwhile, the trial is proceeding without them. It is not clear whether their absence will make things easier or more difficult for the other defendants.

"In principle, I think that Israel has caused itself damage by harboring criminals on its soil," says William Goldnadel, a well-known French-Jewish attorney representing one of the suspects in the case. "They are not good citizens and do not contribute to [Israel's] image," he argues.

Still, noting that France released the terrorist Abu Daoud and never complained to Syria about harboring a wanted French Nazi Alois Bruner, Goldnadel adds: "I think that the French prosecutor should display a bit more humility since we know how [France] behaved in regard to international cooperation in much more serious cases. 

 


 


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