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Israel: Priest Accused of Sexual Offenses Involving Minors to Be Extradited to Russia

(Feb. 19, 2016) On February 16, 2016, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected an appeal against the extradition of a Russian priest accused of committing sexual offenses in Russia. The decision was rendered by Justice Uri Shoham, with Justices Neal Hendel and Salim Joubran concurring.  (Crim.A 1210/15 Gleb Grozovsky v. the Attorney General (Feb. 16, 2016), STATE OF ISRAEL: THE JUDICIAL AUTHORITY (in Hebrew).) 

Facts

The appellant entered Israel on September 27, 2013, on a tourist visa, after a criminal investigation against him had commenced in Russia. The investigation centered on allegations that he had committed sexual offenses involving three girls under the age of 14.  On June 16, 2014, Russia filed a request in Israel for his extradition.  The request included statements by the alleged victims and psychiatric and psychological assessments attesting to their ability to testify.  After receipt of the extradition request, Israel’s Minister of Justice applied to the Jerusalem district court for a declaration that the appellant was extraditable.  (Id. ¶¶ 1-5.)

The District Court Decision 

The district court determined that there was no proof of the appellant’s claim that the charges against him were motivated by political or religious reasons. The district court similarly rejected the appellant’s claim that he would not receive a fair trial in Russia and might be subjected to unlawful interrogation techniques to force him to admit to crimes he had not committed.  The basic presumption, the district court held, is that the State of Israel enters extradition treaties only with countries that meet the standards of a fair trial.  Accordingly, the burden of proof to negate this presumption was on the appellant, and he failed to meet it.  Consequently, the appellant’s extradition to Russia did not violate Israel’s public policy.  (Id. ¶ 6.)

The Supreme Court Decision  

  1. Level of Evidence

Rejecting the appeal of the district court decision, Shoham stated that one of the requirements for extradition under Israel’s Extradition Law 5714-1954 is that the person whose extradition is sought has either been convicted of an offense or is a person against whom there is sufficient evidence to substantiate an indictment in Israel for an offense punishable by at least one year, had the offense been committed in Israel.  (Id. ¶ 14; Extradition Law 5714-1954 (as amended), § 9(a), NEVO LEGAL DATABASE (by subscription) (in Hebrew).)

According to Shoham, the Supreme Court has previously established that the level of evidence required for approval of an extradition request is that the evidence be able to substantiate, on its face, the requested person’s guilt.  The question before the Court was therefore not whether the evidence was sufficient for conviction but rather whether the evidence justified the filing of an indictment against that person. Questions on the admissibility and weight of the evidence, the Court determined, should be evaluated by the court in the requesting country, in this case Russia, and not in the course of the extradition proceedings before an Israeli court.  (Crim.A 1210/15, ¶¶ 15 & 21.)

2. Punishment of Minimum One Year of Imprisonment in Israel

According to Shoham, the evidence submitted by Russia in connection with the extradition request was sufficient to have merited an indictment had the offenses been committed in Israel. Such an indictment would be for the offenses of rape and indecent acts against a minor under sections 345(B)(1) and 348(B) of the Penal Law.  These are offenses that are punishable on conviction by imprisonment for one year or longer (for 20 and 10 years, respectively), as required for recognition as extraditable offenses under section 2(A) of the Extradition Law.  (Id. ¶ 17; Penal Law, 5737-1977 (as amended), NEVO LEGAL DATABASE (by subscription) (in Hebrew).)

3. Exception for Extradition Requests

Shoham rejected the appellant’s claim that the offenses attributed to him were selected by Russia intentionally to prevent him from claiming that his extradition was motivated by political or religious persecution.

According to the Extradition Law, a person will not be extradited when the extradition request is filed in connection with an offense of a political character or to enable indicting or punishing the person for such an offense, even if the extradition is not expressly requested because of such an offense. (Extradition Law, § 2 B(a)(1).)  Sexual offenses of the kind for which the appellant is being investigated in Russia, which correlate with those under sections 345, 346, and 348(A) and (B) of Israel’s Penal Law, however, are expressly precluded from being viewed as  offenses of a political character.  (Extradition Law § 2 B(b)(4).)

According to Shoham, the appellant had not provided any evidence to indicate the existence of political persecution against him. The widespread media attention given to the investigation of the appellant in Russia, the Justice averred, might reflect public interest in that country because of the appellant’s notoriety as a former soccer player and his popular image as an Orthodox priest in his community.  It does not indicate, Shoham determined, the existence of political motives behind the criminal investigation.  (Crim.A 1210/15, ¶ 22.)

4. Harm to Public Policy Exception

Under the Extradition Law, a person will not be extradited when the extradition “might harm public policy or an essential interest of the State of Israel.” (Extradition Law, § 2B(a)(8).) According to Shoham, based on earlier decisions of the Court, this exception must be interpreted very narrowly.  A statement by another priest alleging that the appellant would be subjected to an unfair trial in Russia were he to be extradited, and therefore harm Israel’s public policy, Shoham determined, was not substantiated by any supporting evidence.  (Crim.A 1210/15, ¶ 22.)

5. Conclusion

Based on the abovementioned factors, the Court rejected the appeal and affirmed the district court decision, declaring that the appellant was extraditable to Russia.