The excitement surrounding Ze'ev Rosenstein's arrest and the was understandable considering the amount of time and effort police have invested over the years in catching their public enemy No. 1.
But with Rosenstein facing extradition to the US for drug crimes committed there, legal officials asked themselves where the Israeli law enforcement system went wrong in failing to nab him on their own for the series of crimes, including murders, he is suspected of committing here.
In 2003, Columbia, after signing a special extradition treaty with America, shipped more than 130 drug lords to the US who the government was afraid of trying at home due to the corrupt local judicial system.
According to Israel Police Intelligence Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, one reason for extraditing a local criminal is that 'sometimes it is safer for the criminal to be locked up abroad.' Irit Kahn, head of the Justice Ministry's international department, rejected criticism that by extraditing Rosenstein, it was following in Columbia's footsteps.
Pointing to the fact that Israel has extradited over 40 criminals in recent years, Kahn said: 'The Justice Ministry's policy is to try a suspect in the place where the crime was committed and where most of the evidence is. This policy has been approved by the Supreme Court and it is important for criminals to know that they will be tried for their crimes.'
Criminal Law expert Prof. Ron Shapira told The Jerusalem Post he understood Kahn's arguments but that it was not normal for a sound country to operate in such a manner.
"It is clear that Israel cannot go on forever extraditing criminals to the US," Shapira says. "This is not the way things are done in a properly administered country and we should expect Israel to be able to catch, convict, and put criminal behind bars."
Police have arrested Rosenstein in the past, but have had to let him go for lack of evidence. In December 2003, for example, he was arrested by police who announced they had a witness who had been hired by the underworld kingpin to murder his rival, Meir Abergil. Rosenstein was released shortly afterwards, when the police discovered their witness was lying.
This time, however, the arrest is of a different nature. It is part of the extradition procedure and is being carried out on behalf of the country seeking the extradition to make certain Rosenstein will not flee the country before the court determines whether or not he is extraditable.
According to the police, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expert at apprehending international drug dealers such as Rosenstein. If the DEA says it has enough proof to convict him, Israel's No. 1 criminal will likely be locked away for many years.
According to the Extradition Law as it was formulated between 1978 and 1999, Rosenstein could not have been extradited to the US because he is an Israeli citizen. In 1978, prime minister Menachem Begin amended the law to prevent Israeli nationals from being extradited even to Common Law countries with which they shared extradition covenants and that did not have a similar restriction.
The law was changed in 1999 in the wake of a severe diplomatic crisis between Israel and the US over the case of Samuel Sheinbein, an American Jew who was charged with killing Hispanic teenager Enrique Tello Jr. in September 1997. Sheinbein fled to Israel and claimed that he was an Israeli citizen because his father had lived in Israel and was an Israeli citizen.
Despite shrill protests from the US and after a dramatic court battle, Sheinbein's strategy succeeded. The Supreme Court rejected the US extradition request in accordance with the law at the time. It was a Pyrrhic victory for Sheinbein, however, since an Israeli court sentenced him to 24 years for murder.
In 1999, the Knesset amended the law so that Israeli citizens could be extradited. However, it added a rider stating that Israeli citizens domiciled in Israel would only be extradited if the country seeking the extradition agrees to allow the suspect to serve out his sentence in Israel. According to a Justice Ministry source, the US has agreed to this condition with regard to Rosenstein.