Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Russia Holds Israelis Hostage

As Russia demands the handover of Berezovsky and Zakayev in exchange for co-operation in the Litvinenko poison case, the Israeli press has been revealing that similar tactics are being used by Moscow in the case of Leonid Nevzlin, who is wanted by the Russian authorities in connection with the Yukos affair.

On December 5, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot published an article by the journalist Itamar Eichner under the headline “Putin’s Israeli Hostages”, newsru.co.il reports.

The article says that the Russian authorities are refusing to allow four Israelis who were sentenced in Russia to serve their terms of imprisonment in Israel until Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin is extradited to Russia.

The four Israelis - Shimon Hirschhorn, Eli Katz, Shalom Kasierer (a scion of one of the world’s leading diamond families) and Vladislav Kagan, are serving 6-year sentences in Moscow on charges of smuggling uncut diamonds.

Eichner says that the men are essentially being used by Moscow as hostages, in spite of the prisoner exchange agreement that exists between the two countries. Moreover, the article of the offence for which they were originally sentenced has since been struck from the Russian federal criminal code. Hints of a possible “exchange” have been contained in discussions with representatives of the Israeli authorities and in conversations with the prisoners’ relatives.

According to Eichner, one of the Israeli prisoners recently managed to pass a note to one of his relatives which said that in October 2005 the four received a visit from an unknown person who told them that they had been entrusted with “the task of bringing Nevzlin to Russia”. If they co-operated in this, they would be set free and returned to Israel, but if they did not, they would have to serve the rest of their sentences in Russia. Another unknown person contacted a relative of one of the prisoners, asking to meet him in a Tel Aviv cafe, again mentioning Nevzlin.

A high-ranking Israeli source has confirmed that Russia is using the four prisoners in order to exert pressure in the Nevzlin extradition case. Although the Russian government does not dare to make an official statement, the hints are passed by state channels.

The newsru.co.il article also mentions another Israeli citizen, Mikhail Mirilashvili, who is currently serving an 8-year term of hard labour in a prison camp near Volgograd, Russia, for “creating an organized criminal group with the aim of freeing his abducted father”. Mirilashvili was vice-president of the Russian Jewish Congress. His name has also been mentioned repeatedly in the Russian press in connection with Nevzlin.

(hat tip: M.L.)

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