The Farce Goes On

"With the completion of this report, the news arrived of the plea bargain in which Sharon and Oded Parinian were charged with murder, and the murder charge was downgraded to conspiracy to commit a crime, and that their sentence was five years. With the achievement of that plea bargain and with the completion of this report, the curtain can come down on the farce." In those words, the Zeiler Commission wrapped up its report on the murder of Pinhas Bouhbout and Tzahi Ben-Or. "Epilogue: Melancholy thoughts" was the title of the concluding section of the report, which exposed the incompetence of the police force and led to the ouster of its commissioner.

The failure of the police and prosecution to end the affair with at least the conviction of the main suspects, despite the mounds of evidence, was a tragic conclusion to a production that was absurd from beginning to end. A true farce.

But the absurdity has not ended with the report. The absurd is that would have been possible to take action against the Parinian brothers and to smash their crime gang. The police had the evidence - they were extensively quoted in the Zeiler report. But neither the police nor the prosecution cared about it, nor, sadly, did the Zeiler commission.

The plea bargain with the Parinians was called absurd by the Zeiler panel itself, because it didn't meet the one standard that it used to measure the success of the police: the ability to convict criminals and lock them up.

"Lack of alertness, the involvement in the investigation of parties suspected of bias, and inexplicable shortcomings combined together," the Zeiler commission wrote. "They brought down the curtain on a play in which we had murder victims, murderers and law enforcement officials, but nobody's being charged with murder." Accordingly, the structural recommendations of the Zeiler commission to improve the police's work based on the problems uncovered in this case all address police procedure, control, use of sources and so on.

Yet none of the Zeiler report's 180 pages devote a single word to another problem with the police: the failure to lay hands on the fruits of crime, and the sources of financing for crime, which could destroy the crime gangs by starving them of resources.

Measure of success

The police failed to do that for the same reason that the Zeiler commission failed to comment on it: because it doesn't occur to anybody that success in the war against crime must be measured in terms of "what proportion of the fruits of crime did we manage to seize, and to what degree we managed to turn crime into an occupation that does not pay."

It isn't as though there wasn't what to seize. The Zeiler report mentions at least two economic events in which the Parinians were involved. One involved trading in batteries for gas masks that had been stolen from the Israeli army in 1998. With mediation by the Parinians and the police, the batteries were ransomed by the insurance company that had insured them. The stolen batteries were evaluated at about NIS 10 million (though at the time of the theft, estimates as to their worth had reached tens of millions of dollars). For its mediating the return of stolen goods, the Parinians received something between NIS 250,000 to NIS 600,000 from the insurance company.

The second thing involves an illegal casino the Parinians ran in the south. The Zeiler report mentions that it heard testimony about a casino that was operating on a large scale, where people were losing hundreds of thousands of shekels, that had been open for years without anybody troubling to act against it."

These two things alone indicate that the Parinians made a good living from their criminal activities. They became millionaires. Income in the millions is good incentive to turn criminal, and certainly justifies the risk in a life of crime. Including the risk that from time to time, jail time will be involved.

Therefore, measuring the risk criminals in Israel face in terms of "how many years they'll spend behind bars" misses the point entirely. Criminals factor in the risk of hard time, and the risk pays for them, because of the life of wealth they can expect from their actions.

As long as the fruits of crime remain in the hands of the criminals, and as long as they have enough means to protect their crime gangs, there's no reason to think they'll abandon their illegal activities.

Seizing those fruits is the way to counter crime, more so than mere imprisonment. The tax authorities should have been sent to check whether the Parinians pay tax on their income; to pursue them via business registration bureaus, and planning and construction authorities; to investigate them for money-laundering; and finally, to seize ill-gotten gains. The millions that the Parinians evidently made from foul means should be taken away, to prove that crime does not pay. But the police didn't think of that, and neither did the Zeiler commission.