Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit on Sunday ordered police to return jewelry worth 600,000 shekels ($162,200) to Shaul and Iris Elovitch because it was seized without a court order.
The jewels were confiscated during the investigation of Case 4000 (the Bezeq bribery case). Amit said that taking the jewelry without a court order was illegal, thereby overturning rulings by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s and District courts, and contrary to the state’s position.
The jewelry was taken from the couple when they were arrested in February on suspicion of bribery, obstruction of justice and money laundering. The police impounded seven Tel Aviv-area properties, three Mercedes and Audi vehicles, seven bank accounts and various insurance policies. They also emptied the house of 6 million shekels’ worth of art objects and jewelry and even demanded that the couple remove the jewelry they were wearing, which included a watch, earrings and their wedding rings. It was only afterward that defense attorneys found that the court orders issued by Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz did not call for the seizure of art or jewelry.
Not only was the art and jewelry seizure illegal, Amit said, but confiscating the jewelry the couple was wearing “was another degree of humiliation.” He said it was difficult to believe that even if a request had been made to seize jewelry, the court would have approved it. As for the art, Amit ordered the issue sent back to the district court. “I will remind everyone that we are still in the investigation stage, before an indictment has been filed, when the presumption of innocence still prevails,” he wrote.
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By law, police can temporarily seize property and money that was allegedly used to commit crimes, or in the event the objects might be used as evidence, until a court rules on the seizure. Magistrate’s Court Judge Ala Masarwa ruled that although there was no order for the art or jewelry, the police could resolve this by requesting an order retroactively. District Court Judge Sara Zamir ruled that there was no need to obtain an order, finding that “there is a reasonable suspicion that the offenses were committed in a manner that justified the seizure of their property.” The state also insisted that police had the authority to seize the items even without an order.
“This argument by the state is difficult to accept,” Amit wrote. By the state’s lights, he said, a policeman can enter the house with or without a search warrant and simply seize anything that strikes his fancy that could later be forfeited for its worth. Or a police officer could arrest someone, seize the drugs in her pocket and at the same time remove her jewelry for the same reason.
“This is what was done in this case, and worse,” he wrote. “It’s as if the police were subcontractors for the Bailiff’s Office.”
In earlier proceedings, the couple claimed that there was no evidence that Iris Elovitch had been involved in money laundering and therefore asked to have half the property returned, but the courts refused, arguing that she had allegedly been involved in the offenses attributed to her husband. The Supreme Court chose not to intervene in those rulings. The courts also rejected the defense attorneys’ claim that the value of the seized assets exceeded the amount allegedly underpinning the suspicions against them.
Recently, a Tel Aviv court allowed a 38,000-shekel bank account to be unfrozen for the couple’s use.