No Extradition from Israel?

Country Eli Gervits

There were times when the Don Cossacks constantly waging wars for the glory of the Russian State sustained heavy casualties. So they always welcomed newcomers including runaway bondmen making it clear to the Russian authorities there was no extradition from the Don River area. Surprisingly, in the post-Soviet countries this old story has transformed into the opinion that Is­rael never extradites its people. Eli Gervits, our columnist and President of Pareto Capital 80/20 Ltd., the biggest Russian-speaking law firm in Israel, explains why it is not so.

Catchy phrases, such as “There’s no extradition from Israel,” sound very nice but it does not make them right in meaning. I’ve been working hard to disprove this myth for about 15 years so it’s my “favourite project.” 

A couple of years ago I got a phone call from my Ukrainian colleague. At that very moment a client of his was flying to Tel-Aviv. Forewarned, he’d just had a narrow escape from a masked police raid on his business. How­ever, he had no Israeli citizenship. Meanwhile, in repatriation cases public danger and criminal record are reasons for citi­zenship denial. So there was no guarantee of success, to say nothing of the case progression speed. Then, out of a clear blue sky, came shocking information  —the man was not a Jew! Naturally, I couldn’t but wonder why on earth he was fleeing to Israel. Here’s what I heard, “Where else is he supposed to flee? There’s no extradition from Israel! That’s why!” The idea has become encrusted with myths and extended to the point of “never-ever” which is totally untrue.

France, for instance, never extradites its citizens, except to the EU, of course. When a Frenchman driving like mad hit a girl on a Tel-Aviv pedestrian crossing and had enough time to fly back home before it was clear what he and his accomplice’d done France did not extradite them. There was no way to do it even though a will there was.

Another country never extraditing its citizens is the Russian Federation. Enter Double Confusion. On the one hand, the RF does not practice extradition. OK. Fine. On the other hand, Israel does extradite its citizens to the RF. We know such precedents.

If you ask Google why Russian-born Israeli businessman Leonid Nevzlin was never extradited you’ll get a two-fold answer. Firstly, Israel does not extradite its citizens. Secondly, it was, after all, political persecution. In the beginning I published some comments on the case. The real reason was unknown till the Israeli Supreme Court delivered its judgment. It turned out the party charged was the Israeli State Attorney’s Office while the plaintiff was the Russian State that’d hired some defenders. The aim was to find out why there was no reply to the inquiries. The court’s answer ran Russia had not submitted evidence acceptable according to the Israeli Law. It’s worth mentioning, once my articles were published, no officials, vanishing off the radar screen, have ever been seen on the Israeli border. Rumour has it, they are still in the Israeli jurisdiction, but evidently none of them trusts the saying about no extradition from Israel.

According to another myth, Israel practices extradition only in case of exceptionally aggravated criminal offence, i.e. murder, rape and such like, with white-collar or tax crimes allegedly excepted. A new rebutment came along just recently. The Attorney General’s Office of Israel requested the District Court of Jerusalem announce two Israeli-French citizens subject to extradition. France wants to put them on trial for stealing over € 50 mln. VAT from the French State Budget by means of a business network they set up about 10 years ago. It stands to reason, the Israeli Attorney General’s Office knows its onions well enough to never bring a surely lost case to court. 

Does it mean all Russian citizens residing in Israel for fear of prosecution for tax or economic crimes committed in Russia should start preparing to go to prison? No, it definitely does not. 

The extradition procedure is multistage and rather complicated. For someone to be put on the plane and extradited, the Minister of Justice must issue an appropriate warrant. Meanwhile, in the history of Israeli-Russian relations there has already been a precedent of the Minister refusing to sign such a warrant. 

Prior to this, a district court must find one subject to extradition. In the meantime, in most cases such rulings are struck down in the Supreme Court. 

Prior to that, the State Attorney’s Office must decide the evidence submitted by the plaintiff country is sufficient to instigate proceedings. 

Finally but most importantly, first and foremost, the plaintiff country’s Attorney’s Office must collect all the evidence, have it translated preferably into Hebrew and bring it into compliance with the Israeli basic legal principles which may be very different from those in Russia.

Meanwhile, extradition proceedings against murderers, rapists and drug dealers Russia instigates in Israel, in most cases ending in extradition, have been and will be common practice. As to extraditing white-collar criminals, to the best of my knowledge, no such court rulings have ever been carried. 

Moreover, I am unaware of the State Attorney’s Office ever instigating such court proceedings. The reason is simple. It’s enough to have just a corpse/victim’s testimony to press murder/rape charges respectively. In the meantime, to charge one with abuse of office it’s, as far as I know, desirable that the Israeli court should be made well-informed about the RF Corporate Law as a whole as well as about all the relevant documents of the particular company at whose service one, in the RF Attorney’s Office’s opinion, has committed official misconduct.

It certainly does not mean such a request will never be filed. Sooner or later somebody will evidently be the first to do it. From the mercantile viewpoint, it may be prudent for a lawyer to “correctly frighten” a client, as trembling hands are quick to draw cheques. It goes without saying, we never do such things as, fortunately, God spares us clients at risk of extradition for murder, rape, or drug pushing. 

In the meantime, when it comes to mere business people, we just let them know about the zero statistics of extradition to Russia for economic reasons. At that moment clients fall into two categories. The first one takes this information into consideration, sighs with relief and “the game is over.” The other, better-to-do, category opts for what we call “extradition exposure suit” to avoid a very nasty peculiarity of extradition proceedings.

American films show all kinds of the accused, even mass murderers, released on bail. However, in Israel, strange as it may seem, the chance of being granted house arrest in murder cases is statistically higher than in case of extradition. The matter is, if a murderer breaks loose it’s Israel’s “domestic” problem. Meanwhile, if a defendant in an extradition case runs away it’s damage to Israel’s international bona fides.

So if one is arrested during extradition proceedings, which usually happens at 5 a.m. with no prior notice whatsoever, the arrestee and their lawyer face a tough dilemma. On the one hand, the latter can take as much time as necessary to prepare for the court hearing, the client spending all this time in prison. On the other hand, the defendant certainly wants to break through the Israeli prison-bars and rush to court to prove extradition to be inappropriate immediately, the lawyer naturally being unable to properly prepare for the trial, which, as we know, is sure to become precedent-setting.

An easy way of avoiding this tight corner is buying an insurance policy. If, God forbid, extradition proceedings are instigated the lawyer doesn’t have to visit the prison to get acquainted with the client. All he has to do is come up to his book-shelf, find the files prepared in cooperation with the client’s Russian lawyers, and head for Jerusalem.