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PERU-ISRAEL: Diplomatic Impasse over Corruption Cases

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Feb 21 2011 (IPS) - The Peruvian government has offered to put Israeli citizen Dan Cohen on trial in Peru, after refusing to extradite him to Israel on the grounds that there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. Cohen is alleged to have taken bribes of 4.1 million dollars while serving on the board of directors of the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC).

Cohen fled to Peru in 2005 to avoid the corruption charges against him in his country. He was arrested by Interpol agents in Peru Aug. 24, 2009, on an international warrant for those charges.

After Peruvian President Alan García refused to accede to the extradition request, Israel’s Justice Ministry continued to plead its case, based on the principle of reciprocity and the United Nations Convention against Corruption, but has so far not met with success.

“The reciprocity that Israel is invoking is limited, because Israel does not allow the extradition of its own citizens, but only foreign nationals living in its territory,” a source at Peru’s Justice Ministry told IPS.

The report by the Justice Ministry’s official extradition commission, sent to García before he reached his decision against extraditing Cohen, has not been publicly released, but IPS had access to it. The report concludes that “accepting reciprocity as proposed would imply accepting the restrictions imposed by Israel on the Peruvian state.”

Peruvian justice authorities will attempt to get Moshe Rothschild extradited from Israel to face charges, dating from 2001, of bribing Vladimiro Montesinos, President Alberto Fujimori’s (1990-2000) intelligence adviser, to secure an order for 36 secondhand MiG-29 and Sukhoi-25 fighters from Belarus.

Rothschild, a former Israeli war pilot, sold arms on the black market from the now-dissolved Soviet Union to Peru in the 1990s. He went back to Israel as soon as an investigation was opened against him and Fujimori and Montesinos were under investigation for corruption and human rights violations, for which they are both now serving prison terms.

“If Peru accepts the reciprocity conditions Israel is imposing, it won’t be possible to extradite Rothschild,” a request that could be made based on the various charges he faces in Peru, the Justice Ministry sources said.

The head of Israel’s state prosecution’s international department, Gal Levertov, informed Lima that the Israeli authorities are willing to cooperate with the Peruvian judges who wish to prosecute Rothschild, according to a copy of the report that was seen by IPS.

Peru’s Supreme Court approved Cohen’s extradition in October 2009, and upheld the same ruling a month later on appeal.

But as Israel prepared for the wanted man’s return, the news was received that President García had refused the request, on the grounds that there was no extradition treaty between the two countries.

Cohen is suspected of taking one million euros (1.3 million dollars) from Siemens, as a backhander in return for an IEC contract for the company to supply three gas-powered turbines.

He is also accused of accepting two million dollars in exchange for persuading the IEC to purchase land at inflated prices, as well as fraudulently charging some 800,000 dollars for supposedly advising on the installation of a textile factory in the United States.

Lima’s refusal of his extradition “was like a bucket of cold water to the Israeli authorities, who have no idea what happened,” counsel for the state of Israel in Lima told IPS.

While Peru’s main criticism of the concept of reciprocity is that Israel will not extradite its own citizens to other countries, the technical report indicates that the Israeli authorities can pursue the legal option of asking that Cohen be tried and sentenced on their behalf in Lima for the crimes for which they are prosecuting him.

“This opens the door to bringing Cohen to trial anyway,” the Justice Ministry source told IPS. “Rejection of the extradition request was by no means motivated by support for impunity.”

They also denied allegations by counsel for the state of Israel that “political influence” in Cohen’s favour had been behind the government’s decision.

While Israel persisted with its extradition request, prosecutor for organised crime Jorge Chávez accused the former IEC director and his wife Nitza Cohen of money laundering, and ordered their assets of 3.9 million dollars in Lima’s BBVA Banco Continental to be frozen.

Chávez said that funds transferred into their accounts from abroad might presumably be linked to the bribes Cohen took while in public office in Israel. By court order, neither Cohen nor his wife can leave Peru until the trial is over.

“One way or another, whether in Peru or in Israel, Cohen is likely to be convicted and receive a severe sentence,” the Justice Ministry source said.

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