rosenstein - Gili Eliyahu
Court trial of Israeli drug king Zeev Rosenstein. Photo by Gili Eliyahu
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Jailed crime kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein, who is serving 17 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and drug trafficking, has asked President Shimon Peres for a pardon.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman will have to decide soon whether to recommend the request; it would be Israel's first pardon ever of a notorious crime boss.

Rosenstein, 58, is basing his request mainly on his medical condition, his treatment in recent years for a severe illness, and the suffering he says he endured while in detention in the United States, where he was originally tried and convicted for trafficking 1 million Ecstasy pills.

In his request for a pardon, submitted in recent weeks, Rosenstein says the conditions of his imprisonment in the United States were very harsh and that he was very badly treated by the U.S. prison authorities. He claims that the physical conditions of his imprisonment were detrimental to his health.

Rosenstein also mentions his family background and the fact that he is the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Commenting in his pardon request on why he agreed to a plea deal with the U.S. authorities, Rosenstein says he did a "profit and loss" calculation and admitted to crimes he never committed.

The request, filed for Rosenstein by attorney Yifat Winkler, is being handled by the Justice Ministry's pardons department, headed by attorney Ami Palmor.

Rosenstein was extradited to the United States in 2006 following his indictment and conviction for trafficking 1 million Ecstasy pills. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

After returning to Israel to serve his sentence, he admitted in a plea bargain that he ordered two Colombians to carry out a hit on his rivals in Israel, brothers Nissim and Yaakov Alperon. Rosenstein subsequently canceled the hit. The three-year sentence he received ran concurrent with the sentence for the drug conviction in the United States.

In February, Rosenstein was convicted, again as part of a plea bargain, in the Nazareth District Court of conspiracy to commit a crime - a triple murder at Shaldag Beach on the shores of Lake Kinneret in 2001. According to the original indictment, Rosenstein ordered the murder of rival underworld figure Rafi Weitzman, who had allegedly tried to kill Rosenstein at some point too. Assailants shot dead Weitzman and two others, David Ben-Mergi and Sharon Masawi, in the attack on the beach.

"We hope the request for a pardon will be upheld," Rosenstein's wife Yvonne said yesterday. "We are people of faith and hope that we receive good news."