Israeli Arms Suspect Loses Extradition Appeal

A Moscow court has ordered the extradition of a controversial Israeli businessman and former army officer to Colombia, where he faces a jail sentence for training right-wing paramilitary forces.

Yair Klein, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army, was detained at Domodedovo Airport last August as he was about to board a plane to Israel.

A spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court confirmed that it had approved on Tuesday an earlier decision by the Prosecutor General's Office to extradite Klein.

His lawyers have 10 days to appeal the decision with the Supreme Court, she said.

Klein, who had changed his passport details to avoid detection, was detained after a tip-off from Interpol. The businessman, who runs a private security outfit called Spearhead, had come to Moscow to help set up a factory for the manufacturing of armored vehicles, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Two days after his arrest, Colombia submitted a request for his extradition via Interpol.

Tried and convicted in absentia in Colombia in 2001, Klein faces a 10-year jail term for training paramilitary groups involved with terrorist activities in the South American country in the late 1980s.

In 1991, an Israeli court convicted and fined him for selling arms to Colombian paramilitary forces, and he has also spent 16 months in a Sierra Leone jail over his involvement in a guns-for-diamonds deal.

The ruling to extradite Klein comes just days after Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is accused of attempting to supply arms to Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas, was detained in Thailand as part of a sting operation. He is also suspected of supplying arms to the Taliban and al-Qaida, and pouring arms into the civil conflicts in Africa.

Mordechai Tzivin, the Tel Aviv-based lawyer for Klein, said by telephone Wednesday that he and Klein's lawyer in Moscow planned to lodge an appeal with Russia's Supreme Court on Friday, a process that could take about a month.

If the appeal fails, Tzivin said he intended to drum up support from human rights groups, and warned that Klein faced "potential death" in a Colombian jail.

"We will try to convince the relevant Russian authorities of the danger [Klein] is facing," said Tzivin, citing the poor conditions for prisoners there. "He is the most wanted man in Colombia."

Shortly after Klein's detention in August, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon said he hoped that he would "rot in jail for all the damage he's caused Colombia," the country's media reported.

But Diego Tobon, Colombia's ambassador to Russia, on Wednesday dismissed the lawyer's claims and said Klein would receive fair treatment.

"Not too many people [in Colombia] pay attention to Yair Klein. He is not a high-risk [prisoner]," Tobon said by telephone. "We will fulfill all our international obligations. We are sure he will feel better in the conditions [in Colombia] than just staying here waiting for the decision."

He added that Klein would be interned in one of the country's better jails and would receive improved conditions and benefits if he helped the Colombian authorities with information on the narcotics trade and the people he trained.

Colombia's government has cracked down on rebel groups, and thousands of fighters have handed in their weapons in recent years. The right-wing paramilitary movements, as well as the left-wing FARC, have been linked by law enforcement agencies to drug trafficking.

The Israeli government has come under strong criticism domestically for not doing enough to prevent Klein's extradition, a claim it has strongly rebutted.

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Israel had made "no official request" for Klein.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry also confirmed that there had been no formal extradition request.

"Israel had no legal grounds to ask for Klein's extradition. He is not wanted for any crime in Israel and it is the official policy of the Israeli government not to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries, just as we expect them not to interfere in ours," said a ministry spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The spokesman said that, at the request of the Klein family, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had asked her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov at a January meeting in Moscow whether anything could be done to return him to Israel on humanitarian grounds.

Tzivin claimed that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had not done anything to prevent his extradition to Colombia.

"If Russia decides to expel [Klein] to Colombia, they are serving the CIA and the FBI at the same time," said Tzivin, noting that the U.S. authorities, which have helped fund the Colombian government's battle against the country's drugs trade, had a strong interest in seeing Klein extradited.