Eight years after he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his ex-wife
Carol and dumping her dismembered body in a Bangkok river, Eli Cohen returned to
Israel on Thursday following a pardon late last year by the king of
Cohen, an Israeli citizen, had served only eight years out of a
A number of reports stated that immediately after
landing, Cohen boarded a connecting flight to another location, possibly out of
fear that he would be rearrested.
The Justice Ministry said on Thursday
that it had nothing to do with Cohen’s return and no intention of getting
The ministry spokesman said that since Cohen had both been
convicted and served time in another country for his crimes, the State of Israel
would have no basis to try him.
Pressed about the unusual situation of
Cohen receiving a pardon after serving such a short portion of his sentence, the
spokesman said that even this result left the state’s legal position and the
limits on its ability to intervene unchanged.
Attorney Dikla Tutian-Zaid,
who has represented the family in its effort to have Cohen banned from returning
to Israel, said that the family had heard about his reported return through the
media – the same way they had heard about his pardon six months
“No official from any government agency informed the family that
the murderer was coming home. It is only fitting that the family have some sort
of notice so that they can prepare for this,” she said, adding that “they could
one day just accidentally run into him outside.”
Tutian-Zaid, who is also
director of the Noga Center for victims of crime, added that the family’s
efforts to have the pardon redacted and to prevent Cohen from returning to
Israel had received no help from Israeli authorities, and that the family was
left with a feeling that “there is complete disregard for Carol’s
She also said the case was a perfect example of why Israel should
be able to ban certain people, including citizens, from the country if they were
guilty of serious crimes.
“If Israel can prevent people from entering the
country because of their political beliefs, then we must do it for people who
murdered in cold blood like this,” she said.
Asked how the family had
taken the news, she said that “every time this story comes back up in the news,
it brings back a great deal of trauma for the family. They are in great pain and
fear. The pain is double because they feel there is no justice, that he sat in
prison for just a few years and can now go on with his life as though he never
A woman who answered the phone of Carol’s mother, Rivka
Amsalem, on Thursday told The Jerusalem Post
that they were not commenting on
the news and quickly hung up the phone.
Last November, when news of the
pardon was announced, Amsalem told the Post
that “it’s a very terrible feeling
to know he’ll be released. How could it be that someone who murders his ex-wife
in such a brutal and terrible way, and then cuts her up and throws her into a
river, can be pardoned?” She was adamant, however, about one thing.
don’t want him in Israel,” she said.
“That’s my war now, to make sure he
never comes back here. I want the country to help me fix this problem they
caused. He [Cohen] has nothing to look for here [in Israel]. He should spend the
rest of his life in the galut [“exile”].”
In February 2004, not long
after he moved to Thailand, Cohen bought a one-way ticket for his ex-wife to fly
out to Bangkok, saying he missed her and wanted to see her.
hours of her arrival, he murdered her in his hotel room and crammed her
mutilated body into a suitcase, which he threw in a river in the city. After
dumping the body, he called the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok to report her
missing, but police tapped him as the chief suspect almost
Controversy arose when the pardon was announced in November,
following reports that then-interior minister Eli Yishai had helped secure the
pardon – a claim the minister’s office denied, though it added that Yishai had
worked to bring back Israelis serving long drug sentences in Thailand and India
because of the dire conditions in their prisons.
“The minister has never
knowingly worked for the sake of releasing a murderer, and if it turns out he
was involved in such instances, it was a mistake and the instance must be
checked. The minister believes that the place of a murderer, any murderer, is in
prison for the rest of their lives,” the statement by Yishai’s office
A press inquiry to the Thai Embassy in Israel went unanswered
Contacted on Thursday, University of Haifa Prof.
Emmanuel Gross said the situation was “absurd” and very “sad.” However, he said
Israel “can’t do much with the current law to change the result” of Cohen going
free following his pardon, since Israel was required by law to respect
Thailand’s legal determination of the issue and could not try Cohen a second
He noted that if Cohen had been extradited and brought to trial in
Israel, he would almost certainly have received a “mandatory life
Asked if a public outcry could lead Israel to amend the law
and allow for exceptions in re-prosecuting people like Cohen, Gross said that
“after such a bad precedent, exceptions” might be considered.
example, if Israel found “a prison sentence in another state unacceptable” and
the “chasm between the punishment and the crime were too extreme to ignore,”
maybe there could be an exception to let Israel retry or resentence the