Court: Foot Dragging Could See Alleged Traffickers Walk Free

The state prosecutor considers it a crucial case in the war against trafficking in women. But the indictment against Rami Saban came a year ago; it was only two weeks ago the first evidentiary hearing took place. The Supreme Court sharply criticized the State Prosecutor's Office for the drawn-out handling of the case.

On International Woman's Day close to a year ago, the police made banner headlines about the discovery of an international syndicate doing millions of shekels in business and trafficking in hundreds of women. On March 29, 2009, an indictment was presented in Tel Aviv District Court against eight members of the syndicate headed by Rahamim (Rami) Saban.

The path to the evidentiary hearings was strewn with obstacles. The case was assigned to Judge Uri Shoham and transferred to Judge Khaled Kabub. Saban's attorney argued at hearings that his representation had to be arranged, and ultimately his defense was assigned to the Public Defender's Office. When the new attorneys sought time to study the material, the State Prosecutor's Office objected, asking for the hearings to be hastened, while forwarding increasing amounts of investigative reports, even though it was supposed to have placed this material at their disposal the day the indictment was issued.

Over a month ago, the State Prosecutor's Office asked the Supreme Court to extend Saban's detention; he had already been held for nine months. Justice Edmond Levy said of the foot-dragging here: "The main obstacle preventing the proceedings from taking place properly is due to the actions of the investigative team and the prosecution." He added: "This behavior of the prosecution is inappropriate and other circumstances would have justified the release of the respondent from jail."

Levy clarified: "As mentioned, an indictment was issued in March 2009, and logic would require that at that time the investigative material would have been formulated and ready to be handed to the defense team. But the problem is that the situation is completely different ... during all of 2009 and, in effect, up until today, the prosecution is continuing to forward investigative material to the defense attorney and by the nature of things, time is needed to review it and prepare to handle the trial."

About a week later, the defense counsel was surprised to receive a letter from Tel Aviv District Prosecutor Ruth David: "We wish to inform you that during a review of the investigative material gathered in the case ahead of the next evidentiary hearing, it turned out there is additional material in Russian and Ukrainian that was not forwarded to you." David wrote that the first witnesses to testify are not connected to this material. The defense counsel argues the material refers to hundreds of items it has yet to see.

The Public Defender's Office wrote to the court: "When it is a matter of such a fundamental and ongoing flaw of not transferring investigative material for 11 months, we would have expected the prosecution to refrain from attempting to repair the flaw with a meaningless declaration about the 'lack of relevance' of the material that it itself claims is relevant!" There should be no questioning of witnesses until all the material could be reviewed."

It was agreed, with the court's knowledge, that the defense could resummon witnesses after it reviews the new materials.

The State Prosecutor's Office said in response that "the prosecution has made and is making every effort to transfer the investigative material to the defense as soon as possible. The delay stemmed from the constraints of the investigation, which took a long time and depended on external factors. This is a large-scale case that is complex and covers the entire world. It took a long time to transcribe the 80 discs documenting the questioning of suspects and to translate the many documents received from different countries."