Background: The tools to battle organized crime are there; the will is not

Law c'tee chair: Police force doesn't function, it doesn't have leadership.

alperon car bomb 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
alperon car bomb 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
On June 9, 2003, the Knesset, with much fanfare, passed the Fight Against Crime Organizations Law by a vote of 43-4. Introducing the bill for its second and final readings, Law Committee Chairman Michael Eitan said, "The phenomenon of organized crime is perhaps inseparable from modernization in human society. As technologies advance, as the positive capabilities of mankind advance, there is also organization and capabilities for promoting negative goals. "One of these phenomenon is crime - crime which now, through the ability to organize using technological means, can be a much, much more influential and harmful factor. This obliges society to wage total war on crime, and particularly when this crime turns into organized crime." According to Haifa University criminal law professor Emmanuel Gross, the main aim of the law was to convict senior members of a crime organization without having to prove a direct link between them and the criminal actions committed by other members of the gang. The law states that "the head of a crime organization or anyone who fulfills the following roles meant to advance the criminal activities of the organization is liable to 10 years in jail." The punishment applies to various senior members including "the director, the organizer, and the person who directs operations in the crime organization or supervises them." Funders and advisers of a crime organization are also liable to 10 years in prison. When the crime committed calls for a punishment of up to 20 years in jail, the senior echelon can be given the same sentence. The law also allows the state to seize the property of these senior figures even if the property is used for legitimate purposes, on the understanding that crime bosses establish legal businesses to launder the money they have made illegally. The aim is to break them economically. According to Gross, the law is a good one. In practice, however, it hasn't helped. "The number of people who have been tried under the law is very small," he told The Jerusalem Post. "For the time being, it hasn't met our expectations." The law was based on the American model, where it has been used successfully for many years. Here, for some reason, the police and the state prosecution are reluctant to implement it, he said. On the surface, that seems surprising, Gross continued. The police appear to have a great deal of intelligence about crime families, including who runs them and who the lieutenants are. He speculated that perhaps some of the information that the police gather is not admissible in court. One of the failures, he believes, is that the police have not planted undercover agents inside the gangs, or that if they have, the agents will not testify and therefore the information they provide may not stand up in court. One example of the failure to use the law occurred this summer, when members of the gang of Yitzhak Abergil, seeking to kill Rami Amira, apparently a renegade member, accidentally shot and killed a bystander, Marguerita Lautin. Abergil was arrested and held for questioning. The assassins, who were captured on the spot, refused to crack under interrogation. Even though the police are certain the suspected assassins were working for Abergil, they have not tried to charge him under the Fight Against Crime Organizations Law. One reason may be that the US is seeking to extradite Abergil, his brother, Meir, and three other gang members for crimes committed in the US. Gross said that recently the court convicted a criminal under the Fight Against Crime Organizations Law and handed down a stiff sentence, but that trial was the exception rather than the rule. Meanwhile, Eitan said the entire law enforcement system was to blame for the decline in personal safety on Israel's streets and that it needed a drastic overhaul. "The police force doesn't function, it doesn't have leadership and it doesn't have budgets," he told the Post. "The state prosecution has a backlog of cases and instead of throwing the book at criminals, it reaches plea bargains with them. "The courts take too long to hear cases and therefore lose the deterrent effect, even when they do finally convict. The prisons are overcrowded. All in all, the authorities convey a message that they are not determined to fight crime."