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Israel: Easing of Requirements for Legal Assistance Among States

(Nov. 22, 2010) On October 18, 2010, the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) passed an amendment to the Legal Assistance Among States Law, 5771-2010. The amendment changed the procedure that had previously been required as a precondition when another state requests legal assistance in an asset forfeiture case in the State of Israel. According to the Law, Israel's Minister of Justice is authorized under certain defined conditions to approve a request of a foreign state for forfeiture based on a foreign decree of forfeiture or on a request for a temporary forfeiture injunction. To obtain a temporary order of forfeiture, the requesting state had previously been required to provide a commitment that it would reimburse the State of Israel for expenses Israel incurred, including for compensation to the owner if the forfeiture decree was voided.

According to the amendment, the Minister of Justice is authorized to approve a forfeiture request by a foreign state even without that state's commitment. Such approval is to be granted for special reasons, which must be indicated in writing. The amendment further authorizes the transfer of property that had been forfeited to the foreign state only upon a final judgment from a court in Israel.

Explanatory notes for the bill suggested that the general requirement of commitment from foreign states for reimbursement had imposed difficulties on Israel's ability to provide legal assistance, thereby harming international efforts to counter crime. The general requirement, the notes added, had also harmed Israel's status in a variety of international forums due to some foreign states' domestic legal constraints in providing a formal commitment.

The explanatory notes further suggested the following considerations for the Minister's grant of authorization of forfeiture of property in Israel in the absence of a commitment for reimbursement: identity of the requesting state; history of its previous requests; severity of the offense for which the forfeiture decree is requested; the weight of the evidence supporting the request; and the likelihood that the State of Israel would be required to compensate an injured party at the end of the process.

According to the explanatory notes, the requirement for citing reasons for not pursuing a commitment from a foreign requesting state is designed to guarantee transparency and proper governance. Furthermore, the notes stated, the amendment does not harm the State of Israel's ability to request compensation from foreign requesting states for expenses incurred in the process of rendering the legal assistance. (Legal Assistance Among States (Amendment No. 7), 5771-2010 & Bill, the Knesset website, &, respectively (both last visited Nov. 19, 2010).)