State to Pay NIS 2M to Man Falsely Charged With Father's Murder

Yosef Zohar's Kafkaesque story began in April 2002, when his father, Moshe Zohar, a diamond merchant who suffered from advanced muscular dystrophy, died at home.

On Thursday, a man who was acquitted of murdering his father after a five-year trial agreed to a deal under which the state would pay him NIS 2 million in compensation but would not admit responsibility for the harm he suffered.

Yosef Zohar's Kafkaesque story began in April 2002, when his father, Moshe Zohar, a diamond merchant who suffered from advanced muscular dystrophy, died at home.

Yosef Zohar - Archive photo: Moti Kimchi - 16122011
Archive photo: Moti Kimchi

The ambulance crew that came to the house determined that Zohar had died of natural causes, but in December 2002, his caregiver, Valentine Tokila, was arrested and charged with the double murder of his own wife and an elderly woman he cared for. During the investigation of these murders, of which Tokila was eventually convicted, Moshe Zohar's second wife, Sarah, came to the police with suspicions about her husband's death.

Tokila told police that Sarah Zohar and Moshe Zohar's children from his first marriage had been waging a fierce inheritance war even before his death. Police then began to suspect that Yosef Zohar had murdered his father to get the inheritance, and that Tokila had helped him.

Yosef Zohar and his wife were called to the police station and asked about their whereabouts on the night of Moshe's death. They told police that Yosef had been at his father's house until 9 P.M., when he returned home. At around midnight, Tokila called him to say his father's condition had deteriorated and he should return to the senior Zohar's home, but by the time he got there, his father had died.

Tokila told police the same story, but the police found no evidence of a phone call. They then threatened Tokila until he changed his story - which he did several times.

In March 2003, Yosef was arrested. He continued to protest his innocence, saying police had not checked all the phone lines in his home. It eventually emerged that only one line had been checked.

On March 13, 2003, the record of the phone call was discovered by the prosecution, and Tokila was asked to explain it. In their verdict, the judges in the case later wrote that Tokila's questioning "was not an interrogation, it was an attack."

On March 23, 2003, Yosef Zohar was charged with murder.

In November 2007, Zohar was cleared. The court found Tokila's confession not credible and said there was no evidence that Moshe Zohar had been murdered at all.

In June 2008, the court ordered the state to pay Yosef Zohar NIS 300,000 for the days he spent in prison and for his defense costs.

In September 2009, Zohar sued the state for more than NIS 4 million. The court ordered the parties to go to mediation, which resulted in the agreement signed on Thursday.

"There is no good ending to affairs like this, but this is a better ending," said one of Zohar's attorneys, Dror Arad-Ayalon. "You don't feel happy, but there is a great deal of relief."

Arad-Ayalon said it was rare for a court to annul a confession given to the police, but it shows that "a confession is a suspect piece of evidence."

He added that his client's complaints to the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct were rejected, while the head of the police team that investigated Zohar's death, Rami Zach, was promoted, though he has since left the police. Another investigator was given a commendation for his probe of "Moshe Zohar's murder," and the prosecutor, Tova Perry, has since become a judge.