Precedent: Israel frees businessman despite Romanian conviction

Romania Photo: Shutterstock

The State Attorney's office has ignored the extradition treaty and Romania's demand that businessman Gideon Zelivansky serve six years in prison for fraud and tax evasion.

Israel's State Attorney's Office has informed the Jerusalem District Court that it is withdrawing its request for businessman Gideon Zelivansky to serve the six years prison sentence in Israel that was handed down to him in Romania. In so doing, the State Attorney's Office is opposing a request from the Romanian Ministry of Justice to apply the EU extradition treaty, which forms the extradition agreement between the two countries.

The process began in May 2013 in Bucharest when a serious indictment was served against Zelivansky for alleged tax offenses and fraud. In October 2014, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Romanian court ruled that Zelivansky worked in order to fraudulently transfer shares in order to smuggle assets from a creditor and evade €1 million in taxes. In November 2015, following a change in the law in Romania, the prison sentence was reduced on appeal to six years.

Request to serve prison term in Israel

One month before the appeal ruling was handed down, Zelivansky left-escaped from Romania and returned to Israel. As the ruling was final, Romania filed an extradition request to Israel in April 2016. But the Ministry of Justice rejected the request. The Extradition Law states that, "A person who has committed an extraditable offense according to this law and when committing the offense is an Israeli citizen and resident of Israel will not be extradited unless ……. The extradition request is to put a person on trial in the state seeking the extradition." As Zelivansky has already been convicted and sentenced in Romania, the Ministry of Justice announced that it could not accede to the request to extradite him, only to serve his punishment in Romania.

Consequently, Romania filed a request in April 2018 asking that the Ministry of Justice enforce the sentence against Zelivansky in Israel. One year later in June 2019, the State Prosecutor acceded to the request and filed a request with the Jerusalem District Court. Meanwhile, Zelivansky was arrested and kept behind bars, until the end of the proceedings by Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach.

While such arrangements are set out in law, in practice this was an unprecedented process in which a request was filed to enforce a prison sentence handed down abroad on an Israeli citizen and resident instead of extraditing him.

A corrupt system

Following his imprisonment in Israel, Zelivansky hired the law firm of Adv. Eitan Maoz, a specialist in international criminal law, and the law firm of Adv. Moshe Mizrachi, a former senior advisor to the Israel Tax Authority, who began a series of meetings with representatives of the State Attorney's office and Adv. Yuval Kaplinsky, head of the international department, and his team. In these meetings, the international department was given a comprehensive survey of the events that led to Zelivansky's judgement and the ills of the Romanian justice system.

Zelivansky's attorneys claimed that within the complex political and corrupt enforcement system of Romanian law, their client found himself coping with an aggressive system that took a business dispute between him and well connected Romanian businesspeople and turned it into a criminal trial, based on the murkiest of claims. The attorneys claimed that had the process been conducted in Israel, at the most the authorities would have sufficed with a payment, and certainly not six years in prison.

"Globes" has been told that the first public prosecutor in Romania who received the complaint had decided to close the case and only later was the case reopened and Zelivansky was place on trial and convicted.

Released to freedom

This week, despite the diplomatic sensitivity and the EU extradition treaty on which Israel is signed, Israel's Ministry of Justice decided not to enforce the Romanian sentence in Israel and in practice reject the Romanian request, and freed Zelivansky.

The State Attorney's office said, "In the ruling that Romania sought to enforce in Israel, Zelivansky was sentenced to prison for evading tax from a Romanian company that he owned, and fraud towards a creditor. Since the filing of the request to us, the defense has raised a range of claims that have been carefully examined by us.

"In conclusion we found that the acts for which Zelivansky was convicted in Romania would not be considered criminal offenses in Israel, even if there is in them reason for a civil suit. For this reason, we informed the Jerusalem District Court and the Romanian authorities of the withdrawal of the request."

It will be interesting to see if the precedent of striking down the process in Israel will have broad repercussions on other outstanding matters regarding other Israelis exposed to criminal procedures in foreign countries.

Congratulations to the State Attorney's Office

Zelivansky's defense attorney said, "The international department of the State Attorney's office deserves every praise for its independent thinking and professional integrity. The business activities of Zelivansky should not have gone to criminal proceedings at all and we are full of satisfaction that the State Attorney's representatives consented to investigate the affair deeply and in their conclusions that Israel's public measures do not allow the request for such a sentence as this."

The representative of the State Attorney's Office in the procedures was Adv. Avi Kronenberg and Zelivansky was represented by Advs. Eitan Maoz, Moshe Mizrachi, Danielle Einav and Amit Kriegel.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 2, 2021

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Romania Photo: Shutterstock
Romania Photo: Shutterstock
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