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(photo credit: Israel Police)
A six-month long legal battle over the extradition of the suspected ringleader in one of the worst child abuse cases in Israeli history has taken an unexpected turn after a Brazilian court has asked Israel for clarifications about its judicial authority in the West Bank settlement where the suspect lives, Israeli officials said Thursday.
The unusual political twist in the case of "Rabbi" Elior Chen, 28, who is under arrest in Brazil, came after his defense team claimed that Israel has no legal jurisdiction to demand his extradition since he lives in a West Bank settlement that is not within the judicial authority of the State of Israel.
Chen, a resident of Beitar Ilit, was apprehended by Brazilian police on a residential street in Sao Paolo in June after fleeing Israel when the grisly abuse case first broke last year.
His extradition is now pending approval of the Brazilian Supreme Court. However, a partial decision to grant the extradition request - which Chen is fighting - has now been temporarily stymied by a political dispute over Israel's legal jurisdiction over the West Bank.
"This court unanimously decided to convert the judgment into a measure to determine...about the jurisdictional competence of the State of Israel on the criminal facts occurred in the territory allegedly administered by the National Palestinian Authority," a recent Brazilian court decision stated."This territory is nowadays occupied by the State of Israel," the court added.
The Brazilian court asked Israel's legal department to respond to the issue by February 12.
The Justice Ministry said Thursday that Israel had the right to press criminal charges and try Elior Chen for the allegations against him which were committed, among other places, in Beitar Ilit.
The Ministry said in a written response that it's international department was currently preparing a detailed legal response which it will be presenting to the Brazilian authorities in order to press ahead with Chen's extradition process to Israel.
"It is truly amazing that a settler that lives in the territories argues that Israel does not have legal authority over his settlement only in order to prevent his extradition," said an Israeli official involved in the case.
At the same time, the court has previously turned down a defense request to release Chen on bail pending the outcome of the extradition hearing.
An Israeli attorney representing Chen abroad on Thursday lambasted the State's interference in the legal proceedings in Brazil which have been attended by an Israeli consular official.
"The presence of a consular official in the discussion is state interference in legal measures which discriminate against other Israeli prisoners abroad," said the lawyer, Mordechai M. Tzivin.
He added that the Justice Ministry's position over Israel's jurisdiction on the West Bank was not in synch with the Israeli government's stated readiness to create a Palestinian state on much of the West Bank.
Chen, a resident of Beitar Ilit, was apprehended by Brazilian police on a residential street in Sao Paolo in June after fleeing Israel when the abuse case broke.
Israel and Brazil do not have an extradition treaty but law enforcement officials have been working hand in hand in the abuse case since an international warrant for Chen's arrest was issued in April.
Chen and his followers are suspected of severely abusing two children, aged 3 and 4, who were savagely and systematically beaten with hammers, knives and other instruments for months until the younger child lost consciousness in March.
They are also suspected of the severe abuse of other children in the family.
The 3-year-old suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the systematic and brutal abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother and her companions, and is expected to remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.
In an effort to avoid arrest, Chen had fled the country just as police uncovered the abuse case, traveling to Brazil via Canada with his own family.
He turned himself in to Brazilian police on June 3 only in order not to besmirch the local Jewish community who were getting bad press as a result of the case, his lawyer said.
Five people, including the children's mother, have already been indicted in the grisly Jerusalem abuse case.
The chilling charge sheet in the gruesome child abuse case recounts that the mother allegedly forced her children to eat feces, locked them in a suitcase for three days - letting them out only for brief periods of time - repeatedly beat, whipped, and shook them, burnt their hands with a lighter and a heater, and gave them freezing showers.
The abusive mother and 'educators' are also suspected of pouring salt on the burn wounds of the child, stuffing his mouth with a skullcap and sealing his mouth with masking tape, and giving the children alcoholic drinks until they vomited.
As he awaits his extradition proceeding in a small Brazilian prison, Chen is receiving kosher food from a catering company and has been allowed to have phylacteries in his jail cell.
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