A former IDF lieutenant-colonel held in Russia for nearly three years on charges of training paramilitary gunmen in Colombia will be released to Israel in the coming weeks, The Jerusalem Post learned on Monday.
Yair Gal Klein, 67, was convicted in absentia by a Colombian court in 2001 for training right-wing paramilitary groups and drug cartel gunmen in the 1980s and 1990s, through his firm Spearhead Ltd. The former IDF special forces commander was later arrested in Moscow in April 2007 after Interpol issued an arrest warrant for him and two alleged accomplices.
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In October, authorities in Russia decided they would adopt recommendations made by the European Court of Human Rights in May 2010 to refuse extradition to Colombia and instead deport him to Israel, Klein’s lawyer Mordechai Tzivin said Monday.
Russian authorities had originally requested the right to appeal the ECHR’s ruling against Klein’s extradition, but lost the appeal.
Klein’s defense team had petitioned the ECHR, saying that not only had their client not received a fair trial, if he were returned to Colombia to serve his 10-year prison sentence, he would be subjected to torture and inhumane conditions and his life would be in grave danger. As part of their defense, they quoted Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, who said earlier this year that “hopefully they’ll hand Klein over to us so he can rot in jail for all the damage he’s caused Colombia.”
Klein insists that he is not guilty of the allegations against him.
Between 1999 and 2000, Klein spent 16 months in jail in Sierra Leone on charges that he was involved in the arms dealing in the West African country. He was later released and deported to Israel.
On Monday, Tzivin praised the Russian Interior Ministry for its conduct and sensitivity to the affair, saying that Russia “follows international human rights decrees even better than Western countries and the United States. He was lucky that he was arrested in Russia, and I never feared that the authorities wouldn’t honor the verdicts in the case.”
At the same time, Tzivin criticized the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s legal department, headed by Ehud Kinan, for – in his opinion – not helping to bring about Klein’s return to Israel.
Tzivin said this was in marked contrast to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who Tzivin said had always done his part to help.
“For three years, the legal department of the Foreign Ministry didn’t do anything to help Klein, even when they were told that his life was in danger. On the other hand, Lieberman, both before and while he has been foreign minister, did all he could, and his door was always open to us. His assistance has been very helpful to us,” he said.
“The official Russian system said repeatedly that Lieberman’s
appeals were very important to them, and I believe that if he had been
foreign minister at the time Klein was arrested, he would have been
released immediately – first because of his concern, and second because
of the influence he has in Russia,” he added.
Tzivin, the Foreign Ministry’s legal department could have ensured
Klein’s return to Israel years earlier if it had responded to Russian
requests to meet and discuss the matter. He said it had also refused to
accept that Klein’s life was in danger.
The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the matter.