Lawyer says Israel could free Yair Klein if it wanted

Former IDF officer faces 10-year sentence in Colombia on charges of training paramilitary groups in the 1980s.

Israel could still save Lt.-Col. (res.) Yair Klein from extradition to Colombia, where he faces a 10-year prison sentence, if it pressed the Russian government to expel him, one of Klein's Israeli lawyers, Mordechai Tzivin, told The Jerusalem Post. Tzivin told the Post that during a recent state visit by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Israel, Russian officials had told his wife, attorney Nechama Tzivin, that there was no reason to consider expelling Klein when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had asked Lavrov to extradite him to Israel instead of to Colombia. Expulsion means that Klein would go free, whereas extradition means he would have to serve time in jail. Klein has refused to be extradited to Israel, where he is likely to be forced to serve the 10-year sentence he received from a Colombian court on charges that he trained paramilitary groups involved in terrorist activities against the Colombian government in the 1980s. Although Klein left the country before the trial, he was represented by an attorney whom he hired to defend him in court. On March 12, Moscow City Court rejected Klein's appeal against the prosecution's decision to extradite him and gave him 10 days to appeal to the Supreme Court. Tzivin said Klein's lawyers in Moscow have already filed the appeal. Klein, who made many friends among senior IDF officers during his military career, was arrested at the airport in Moscow in August 2007 after trying to get out of the country on a forged passport. Colombia had already issued an international extradition warrant, but Klein left the safety of Israel two months before his arrest in search of business prospects. He has already served time in Israel for illegally exporting Israeli weapons and know-how, allegedly to drug traffickers in Colombia, and later in Sierra Leone for providing arms to rebel forces in that country. Tzivin warned that Klein would die in Colombia if extradited, quoting Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon as saying he hoped Klein would "rot in jail for the damage he's caused Colombia." "Colombia has promised the Russians that Klein will come to no harm," said Tzivin, who is not taking a fee for representing the former officer in Israel. "Only a fool would believe these assurances." Tzivin harshly criticized the Foreign Ministry for allegedly doing nothing to help Klein, despite his contribution to Israel's security. "The ministry says it does not intervene in the internal affairs of other countries," he said. "But it has gone out of its way in the past to help Russian oligarchs." Tzivin also charged that the US has pressured Israel into non-involvement because it wants to see Klein in jail for having helped the drug cartel. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Post that "Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with members of the Klein family at their request and, on humanitarian grounds, raised the Klein matter during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during her visit to Russia two months ago, in an effort to cooperate and find a way to prevent Klein's extradition to Columbia and to return him to Israel. The Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Moscow will continue to provide consular and legal services to Klein in cooperation with the International Department of the State Attorney's Office." A source who spoke on condition of anonymity said that if Klein's life were genuinely threatened if he returned to Colombia, one would expect him to jump at a chance of being extradited to Israel, instead.