Man who killed ex-wife in Bangkok lands in Israel

Eli Cohen lands, leaves over fear of arrest; Ministry of Justice: No basis to try him after he is pardoned by King of Thailand.

Eli Cohen covicted of wife's murder in Thailand 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom)
Eli Cohen covicted of wife's murder in Thailand 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom)
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 Thailand.
Cohen, an Israeli citizen, had served only eight years out of a 150-year sentence.
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 involved.
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 earlier.
“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 life.”
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 did anything.”
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.
“I 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.
Within 24 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 immediately.
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 stressed.
A press inquiry to the Thai Embassy in Israel went unanswered Tuesday afternoon.
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 time.
He noted that if Cohen had been extradited and brought to trial in Israel, he would almost certainly have received a “mandatory life sentence.”
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.
For 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 defendant.