Police and the prosecution were dealt a blow on Wednesday after Tel Aviv District Court rejected the state's request to remand the Perinian brothers in custody until the end of the judicial proceedings in which they are charged with murder.
Judge David Rozen wrote that the tapes of wiretapped conversations involving state witness Shimon Elmikayis, one of the hitmen, and supporting evidence upon which the indictment was based "are insufficient for a criminal trial at this point in the deliberations. The weakness of the evidence leads to the conclusion that [the state] should carefully consider an alternative to jail for Sharon Perinian and all the more so for Oded Perinian."
Last month, the brothers were indicted for arranging the murder of underworld figure Pinhas Buhbout in 1999. The murder case, which had gathered dust on the shelves of the Southern District Police Department for six years, was allegedly solved with much fanfare during the summer by the police's elite investigative squad -the International Serious Crimes Unit (ISCU).
But Rozen questioned the strength of its evidence. "The picture that emerges from what Elmikayis says on the tapes is mostly based on air and is weak," the judge wrote. "The recordings demonstrate the defendants' involvement, but Elmikayis refrains from saying exactly what their role was in the affair."
According to the indictment, the Perinian brothers, known underworld figures, hired a rogue cop, Tzahi Ben-Or and Elmikayis to don police uniforms and murder Buhbout as he lay in a hospital bed recovering from a previous assassination attempt.
The affair had caused the police severe embarrassment. After the murder and after Ben-Or left the police force, he was arrested in a robbery case. During his detention, he told the police what he knew about the Buhbout murder and expressed willingness to turn state's witness and testify against the Perinians. But the state procrastinated and Ben-Or slipped out of the country. He was later found murdered in Mexico.
The case attracted more attention after the head of murder investigation, Asst.-Cmdr. Yoram Levy, was accused of receiving bribes from the Perinians. The allegations were later dismissed by the Police Investigative Department (PID).
When the police came to arrest the Perinian brothers, they found that Oded and Sharon had disappeared the day before. Police probed the possibility they had been tipped off by a police mole. The brothers were finally captured in August.
Their lawyer, David Yiftah, praised Wednesday's court decision and said he hoped "the prosecution will draw the right conclusions and cancel the indictments."
Police, however, rejected Rosen's statement. "This was just a remand hearing," one officer said. "We already have an indictment and this is not a serious step back. Our case is still strong."
The State Attorney's Office also issued a statement declaring that the prosecution "thought and still thinks that it has sufficient evidence to support the indictment against Sharon and Oded Perinian for the murder of Pinhas Buhbout in Tel Hashomer Hospital. We also believe that the evidence, based, among other things, on the taped conversations of the man who was sent by the brothers to commit the murder, links them to the murder and justifies remanding them in custody until the end of proceedings."
A Justice Ministry spokesperson said the court still had to hear what the alternatives to remand in custody would and decide whether they were preferable to remand in jail. If the court ultimately decides to release the brothers, the state will decide whether or not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.