Livni Urges Thailand to Commute Israeli Drug Smugglers' Death Sentence

Lawyer: FM can bribe Thai authorities to save Israelis facing death penalty for smuggling Ecstasy.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday urged her Thai counterpart to ask his government to reconsider the death sentence it had handed down to two Israel nationals convicted of drug smuggling las year.

In her appeal, Livni condemned the defendents for their act and affirmed that the international community must continue its war on drugs.

She said that those found guilty of such criminal acts must sit behind bars and pay the price, and added that Israel would not be appealing the sentence if they had been given the penalty of imprisonment rather than death.

The lawyer of one of the Israeli nationals facing the death penalty said on Wednesday that Israel could save the two by bribing Thai authorities, but has been reluctant to do so.

Attorney Mordechai Tzivin, representing Alon Makhlouf, told Army Radio that the Foreign Ministry has in the past forged identity papers and bribed police officers for "people they wanted to see released."

Makhlouf and Vladimir Akronik were arrested about a year ago during a large-scale police operation on Bangkok's Kao San road, a popular destination for Israeli tourists.

They were caught with 23,000 ecstasy pills in their possession that they had smuggled from Europe. They had planned to take the drugs from Thailand to sell in Japan, Australia and the United States.

Thai police also arrested a number of other Israelis in the same operation, but they were later released when it became clear they had no connection with the incident.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levi dismissed Tzvilin's allegations.

"We are a law-abiding service," he told Army Radio. "Our consulates respect the law everywhere, and it's not in our interest to see Israeli citizens executed. We are trying to help, and we're waiting to see how the event unfolds."

On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said that Thailand was likely to ease the death penalty if the two were to appeal the sentence.

The Foreign Ministry said it is aware of all developments in the affair and is in contact with the pair's families. The Israeli embassy in Thailand has already intervened and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she would personally intervene if necessary.

Ministry sources said an appeal would probably result in the death sentence being commuted to a prison term. "In recent years, no death sentence has been carried out in Thailand, and especially not against foreign nationals," explained one.

Benny Makhlouf, Alon's older brother who visited him in jail, blamed the Israel Police attache for his brother's detention.

"The police are riding a wave," he told Army Radio. "They have concocted this whole thing, and tried to extort information about the Abregil [crime] family from him, but he has nothing to do with them."

"He is innocent," he added. "We don't want anyone to commute his sentence, we want him vindicated, nothing less."

He also said that not a single Israeli official visited his brother in prison, and that he is the only one providing him with kosher food daily.

Sharon Shebo, who last year was jailed in Thailand for two days for carrying a gun bullet in his bag, said he would have preferred a death penalty.

"There were no toilets or beds, and eight inmates are crammed into a tiny cell," he recalled.

"I was standing the whole night, because there was nowhere to lie down," he continued. "When I felt I was about to collapse, I sat on someone's leg. When I asked for water, the warden beat me."

If the sentence were commuted to jail time, the two would have to serve the first third of it in Thailand, but could then be transferred to an Israeli jail, under the terms of an Israeli-Thai treaty.

As in many other countries, foreign nationals are tried according to the Thai legal code, even if they committed a felony against another foreign national.

In 1997, a Thai court sentenced to death another two Israelis, who had been arrested in 1995 on suspicion of trying to smuggle 2.8 kilos of cocaine. Then president Ezer Weitzman lobbied the Thai king, eventually securing their release.