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Trump shuns warnings, vows to move embassy to Jerusalem ahead of speech

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday slapped down warnings of widespread Middle East unrest as he told anxious Arab leaders he still intends to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, on the eve of a much-anticipated policy speech.

Amid a frantic round of telephone diplomacy, Trump told Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah that the deeply controversial move was coming, but crucially did not give a timeframe.

Trump “informed the president (Abbas) on his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” the Palestinian leader’s office said in a statement that was echoed from Amman.

Trump missed a Monday deadline to decide whether to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv or fulfill a campaign promise and move it to Jerusalem — de facto recognizing Israel’s claim on the disputed city.

Such a move would delight both Trump’s donors and the conservative and evangelical base that is so vital for the embattled president’s survival.

But it could also extinguish Trump’s much-vaunted efforts to broker Middle East peace and ignite the flames of conflict in a region already reeling from crises in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Qatar.

The 71-year-old president will give a speech on his decision Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Anticipating widespread demonstrations, US government officials have already been ordered to avoid Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank.

- ‘Threading the needle’? -

US officials talk of “threading the needle” — fulfilling Trump’s pledge, while keeping the peace process on the rails — but critics say Trump’s approach is more like “splitting the baby.”

Officials say he will hold off on moving the embassy right away, largely for logistical reasons, but may present a timetable for that to go ahead on Wednesday.

Equally controversially, he is also expected to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while leaving open questions about control of the predominantly Palestinian eastern part of the city.

The White House argues that such a move would not prejudge final talks and would represent the reality that west Jerusalem is and will continue to be part of Israel under any settlement.

But it could upend a decades-old western policy — observed by both Republican and Democratic presidents — that stated Jerusalem’s status can only be decided by negotiation.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman warned his close ally that moving the US embassy was a “dangerous step” that could rile Muslims around the world.

“Mr Trump! Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a raucous televised speech, echoing alarm expressed by Palestinian and Arab leaders.

In his address, Erdogan warned that any move to back Israel’s claim to the city would mobilize “the entire Islamic world” and even prompt Ankara to sever its recently renewed diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Israel’s government has largely been silent. It earlier left the Trump administration with the impression that moving the embassy was a “no go,” leading to Trump signing the waiver the first time around.

The armed Islamist Hamas movement has threatened to launch a new “intifada” or uprising.

Most of the international community, including the United States, does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

- ‘A way must be found’ -

Following talks in Brussels with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini warned that any move which risked undermining efforts to jumpstart moribund peace talks “must absolutely be avoided.”

“A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, so that the aspiration of both parties can be fulfilled,” she said.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit warned it would be viewed as an act of “clear aggression” against the Arab and Muslim world.

The Palestinians said it would shatter any illusion about Trump’s ability to fairly mediate in any talks.

“That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker,” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Abbas.

- The Jerusalem Embassy Act -

In Israel, however, hardline Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman hailed the moment as a “historic opportunity” for Trump, expressing hope he would see the US embassy in Jerusalem “next week or next month.”

The US Congress has already made its aim clear in the so-called Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was passed in 1995 and which stated that the city “should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel” and that the US embassy should be moved there.

But an inbuilt waiver, which allows the president to temporarily postpone the move on grounds of “national security,” has been repeatedly invoked by successive US presidents, meaning the law has never taken effect.

Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its “eternal and undivided capital.”

But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.

Several peace plans have unravelled over the issue of how to divide sovereignty or oversee sites in the city that are holy for Christians, Jews and Muslims. afp

 

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Palestine overtakes Israel in FIFA football rankings

Palestine’s football team achieved its highest ranking in history Thursday, rising above Israel in the FIFA world rankings for the first time.

The head of the Palestinian football association labelled it an “historic achievement” as the team rose two spots to 82nd in FIFA’s latest rankings.

Israel fell 16 places to 98th after a disappointing failed World Cup qualification campaign.

Palestine have recently won a series of games as they seek to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, including a 10-0 victory over Bhutan.

The announcement comes as the Palestinian football association has campaigned to encourage FIFA to take action against six Israeli clubs located in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, and the Palestinians had asked FIFA to take action against the Israeli FA.

Last month, FIFA decided it would not intervene in the matter, with the Palestinians accusing the body of bowing to Israeli pressure.

Palestinian FA boss Jibril Rajoub told AFP Thursday the rankings rise was an “historic achievement” that came despite restrictions on football in the Palestinian territories imposed by Israeli forces.

“With this classification, we have defeated the occupation’s measures and its daily harassment, from preventing the freedom of movement of athletes through to all measures that impede Palestinian sport,” he said.

The Israeli Football Association said the country’s sports minister had ordered the formation of a committee to examine the reasons for the lack of success.

“We wish the Palestinians all the best as always,” a spokesman for the IFA said, adding they were willing to play a friendly match against them any time.

“May the best team win,” he said.

Israel qualify for tournaments with European teams, while Palestine are in the Asian qualifying groups.

Palestine was first recognised by FIFA in 1998. AFP

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S. African court doubles Pistorius sentence to more than 13 years

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A South African appeals court increased paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius’ sentence for murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to 13 years and five months on Friday.

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein more than doubled his original sentence of six years after the state argued that it was unduly lenient.

Pistorius, 31, was not in court for the hearing.

Prosecutors argued earlier this month that Oscar Pistorius failed to show genuine remorse after killing his girlfriend.

“One of the essential ingredients of a balanced sentence is that it must reflect the seriousness of the offence,” Andrea Johnson, of the National Prosecution Authority, had told the court.

Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux mounted a strong defence of the judge who handed down the six-year sentence, saying she took into account his claim that he believed he was shooting an intruder.

The Paralympic athlete shot dead Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013 when he fired four times through the door of his bedroom toilet.

He pleaded not guilty at his trial in 2014 and has always denied that he killed Steenkamp in a rage, saying he mistook her for a burglar.

In 2015, Pistorius was found guilty of murder and given less than half of the minimum 15 years in jail for that crime.

Pistorius was originally convicted of culpable homicide — the equivalent of manslaughter — but the appeal court upgraded his conviction.

- ‘Justice has been served’ -

Nazreen Shaik Peremanov, a constitutional law expert at the University of South Africa’s law school, told AFP that Pistorius could now appeal the latest sentence at the country’s highest court — the Constitutional Court.

But National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said he was pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“We always maintained as an institution that this appeal is not about an individual. It has got everything to do with the proper administration of justice,” he said.

“We hope the family will find closure knowing that justice has been served and the proper sentence has been handed out.”

Oscar’s brother Carl Pistorius tweeted that he was “Shattered. Heartbroken. Gutted” following the court’s ruling.

“We have all suffered incomprehensible loss. The death of Reeva was and still is a great loss for our family too,” he wrote.

Previously an ambassador for disabled people worldwide, Pistorius was released from jail in 2015 after serving one year of the initial five-year term for culpable homicide.

He returned behind bars after his conviction for murder.

The year before he killed Steenkamp, Pistorius became the first double-amputee to race at the Olympics when he competed at the London 2012 games.

In a television interview, he said he believed an intruder was in the house and “instant fear” drove him to grab his gun and walk on his stumps towards the bathroom.

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Netanyahu grilled for sixth time in graft probe: Police

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was questioned for a sixth time on Sunday (Nov 19) over two suspected cases of corruption, police said.

Netanyahu is suspected of having received luxury gifts from wealthy supporters, including Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Milchan, a long-time friend of Netanyahu, reportedly sent him boxes of expensive cigars and other items worth tens of thousands of dollars. The producer was himself questioned in September.

Channel Two television said that detectives arrived at the premier’s official Jerusalem residence shortly after 4pm (10pm Singapore time) Sunday.

At 9pm, a police statement confirmed that he had been questioned “for a number of hours” by officers of the national fraud and serious crimes squad.

It was their second visit in 10 days, after Netanyahu was questioned for about four hours on Nov 9.

He was first quizzed on Jan 2.

In addition to suspicions that the gifts constituted bribery, the police also suspect that he sought a secret pact for favourable coverage with the publisher of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

The alleged deal, not believed to have been finalised, would have seen Netanyahu receive favourable coverage in return for helping curb Yediot’s competitor, the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom.

Netanyahu has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and says he has been the target of a campaign by political opponents.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu confidants Yitzhak Molcho and David Shimron, partners in a law firm and both relatives of the premier, were questioned by police as part of a probe into suspected corruption around the purchase of German submarines.

Netanyahu himself has not been named as a suspect in the submarine case.afp

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Kokorev: MEPs seek independent commission to investigate Spanish judicial abuse

Family and friends of Vladimir Kokorev, a Spanish entrepreneur of Russian-Jewish origins, met with MEPs this week to highlight the plight of Kokorev, who in 2015 was arrested and put in pre-trial detention together with his wife Yulia and son Igor on the orders of a Spanish Judge.

The Kokorev family spent over 2 years in prison on Canary Islands (Spain) without a trial, a formal indictment, nor any evidence of wrongdoing and with the case declared “secret” by the Judge de Vega for 18 months while the family remained in prison.

A letter jointly signed in Strasbourg this week by MEPs Fulvio Martusciello, Barbara Matera, Aldo Pariciello and Heinz Becker expressed “bewilderment “at Spain’s treatment of Kokorev” and called upon Spain’s judicial authorities to end this “horrifying human rights violation”.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg at a round table meeting to discuss the case, Fulvio Martusciello MEP demanded “an immediate independent enquiry in to Spain’s abuse of the judicial system regarding Kokorev”.

In his address to the meeting Martusciello said “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law, pursuant to Article 6 Paragraph 2 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

“I believe the key word here is ‘charged’ because Article 5 Paragraph 3 of this Convention reads that everyone arrested or detained in accordance with the provisions of Paragraph 1 (c) of this Article shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorised by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial. Release may be conditioned by guarantees to appear for trial.

“Further to that, Article 5 Paragraph 5 states that everyone who has been the victim of arrest or detention in contravention of the provisions of this Article shall have an enforceable right to compensation.

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“Let’s ponder on the words “victim of arrest” and “detention”. They are fully applicable to Kokorev whose case demonstrates that an allegedly correct detention can run over years at the stage of preliminary investigation and actually transform into the service of sentence without any court decision.

“As we can see, Spanish law enforcement agencies trample the following fundamentals of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights:

1) A person can be found guilty only after conviction by a competent court

2) Legal proceedings are conducted within a reasonable time

3) A person charged with an offence must be informed of the cause of the accusation to allow him preparing his defence.

“As I know, Mr. Kokorev has not been lodged any charges since being arrested in 2015. Which terms of pre-trial investigation are considered reasonable in the Canary islands? Two years? Five years? Ten years? This is an absurd situation and it gives grounds to question the existence of any real and motivated charges against him. Suppose Kokorev is charged of money laundering. So where is investigation of this crime? If there is none, is it lawful to talk about money laundering?

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“We promise that every European citizen will be protected by law. Do we deliver our promises given to our voters? Do we always protect people, particularly, from arbitrary actions of law enforcement officers, with some of them believing that half of all people seek to circumvent their government? Our task is not only to assist law enforcement bodies in combatting crime, which is their major task, but also to control operation of these bodies and curb every attempt to violate human rights and fiddle with words.

“I believe that every violation of fundamental human rights must be thoroughly checked and investigated. And meaningful steps must be taken against every public officer who is guilty in these violations.

Everyone has only one single life to live and I wish no one would ever be the victim of a judicial failure or wrongful arrest.”

Fellow MEP Aldo Pariciello said: “I could not believe such outrageous things were possible in a European country of today until I got familiarized with the Kokorev case.

“Failures of justice or investigation do happen sometimes but the things occurring on the Canary Islands cannot be called a failure.

“These are a deliberate breach of basic rights of a European citizen to whom European laws guarantee the fastest possible and unbiased trial and a right to fair justice.

“In Kokorev’s case, I can see neither trial nor any prospects for legal proceedings.

“All I see is a senior ill man who has been tortured for two years without his guilt having been established.

“Furthermore, I cannot see any attempts to submit his guilt to judge or get at the truth of the matter. And I believe the truth is that there is no guilt.

“The investigators and the judge of the Canary islands know this but they apply every effort to dig up something against Kokorev to save face. How else can one explain that they revoked their initial money-laundering charges and began to talk about other crimes?

“Every lawyer knows that if Kokorev was extradited based on the suspicion of money laundering, he must be indicted on exactly this crime. If no charge is brought against him, the case must be terminated.”

EU Reporter

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Israel PM offers quake aid to arch foe Iran

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered aid to victims of the deadly earthquake in Iran, insisting enmity between the two governments does not prevent humanitarian sympathy.

The offer was made in a video conference with the Jewish Federations of North America.

It comes as many of the tens of thousands left homeless by the quake have vented anger at the Islamic regime for what they say has been the slow response of the charitable foundations set up after the revolution of 1979.

“I saw these heartbreaking images of men and women and children buried under the rubble,” Netanyahu told the meeting in Los Angeles.

“A few hours ago, I directed that we offer the Red Cross medical assistance for the Iraqi and Iranian victims of this disaster.

“I’ve said many times that we have no quarrel with the people of Iran. Our quarrel is only with the tyrannical regime that holds them hostage and threatens our destruction. But our humanity is greater than their hatred.”

Iran does not recognise the Jewish state.

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed Netanyahu’s offer, but said neither Iran nor Iraq had as yet requested any external aid.

“The offer was not rejected,” ICRC spokeswoman in Jerusalem Alyona Synenko told AFP, after Israeli media said Iran had turned down the offer through the Red Cross.

“It is important to stress that humanitarian assistance must always be based on needs and stay away from politics,” she added.

More than 400 people were killed and tens of thousands left homeless by the quake that struck on the Iran-Iraq border late on Sunday.

Israel regards Iran and its close ally, Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, as its most dangerous foes.

Iran has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Tens of thousands of Jews of Iranian ancestry have played a prominent role in the state of Israel, counting among their number a former president, a former army chief and several former government ministers.afp

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Palestinian Authority PM leaves Gaza after reconciliation visit

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Gaza Strip — Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah left the Gaza Strip on Thursday after a four-day visit aimed at reconciliation with the Hamas group, an AFP journalist said.

Hamas agreed to hand over power to a unity government last month and Hamdallah’s visit, the first since 2015, saw his ministers take control of ministries in Gaza.

The move is part of wider attempts to end a decade-long split between the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, and Hamas, which runs Gaza.

The two sides are set to meet for further talks in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Tuesday.

Before leaving on Thursday morning, Hamdallah and a number of his ministers visited the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, as well as a desalination plant.

He then left with his ministers through the Erez crossing in northern Gaza, which is controlled by Israel, an AFP videographer said.

He is due to return to Ramallah in the West Bank where a meeting of senior members of Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority, will be held Thursday evening.

Hamas, in a statement, said: “The Gaza Strip and its ministries are under the administration of the national reconciliation government. Hamas will work to support and strengthen its role.”

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it seized it from the Palestinian Authority in a near civil war, and multiple previous reconciliation attempts have failed.

It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

One of the main stumbling blocks to reconciliation is likely to be Hamas’s armed wing, with senior officials rejecting the idea of disarming.

Two million people live in Gaza, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt and suffers from poverty and electricity shortages.

Israel maintains the blockade is necessary in order to prevent arms from falling into the hands of the terror group that could be used to launch attacks on the Jewish state. afp

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Israel to ease holiday restrictions for Palestinians

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Israel on Friday (Oct 6) decided to ease restrictions on Palestinians entering during the Jewish Sukkot holiday, which began on Wednesday, the army said.

On Tuesday, the army said crossings from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel would be closed to Palestinians for 11 days until midnight on Oct 14.

But on Friday they decided those with pre-existing work permits would be allowed in “according to the needs of the market”, an army spokesman told AFP.

The decision applies to Palestinians working in agriculture and hospitals, according to media reports.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians work inside Israel, where they can find higher salaries.

Israel, which controls access to the Palestinian territories, regularly closes them off during Jewish holidays, citing security fears. But the closure announced on Tuesday was unusual in its length.

Israeli media saw it as a reaction to a Sept 26 attack at the entrance of a West Bank settlement in which three people were killed.

The Palestinian attacker, who was shot dead, had a permit to work inside the settlement and the incident raised fear of attacks during the holiday period.

Sukkot, which continues until Oct 12, commemorates the Jewish journey through the Sinai after their exodus from Egypt. This year, it is followed by a weekend.

The holiday sees thousands of worshippers head to the Wailing Wall, one of the holiest sites for Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem, to pray.

The location is close to Islam’s third holiest site, the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to the Jews as the Temple Mount, which was the focus of angry protests in July after Israeli forces limited access over the killing of two police officers.afp

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Shame and anti-Semitism. Kokorev Case is under EP’s control

 

On 28 September, a roundtable event titled Justice and the rule of law in the EU – the case of Vladimir Kokorev was held at the European Parliament in Brussels, under the patronage of Fulvio Martusciello, member of the EPP Group in the European Parliament and Chairman of the Delegation for EU-Israel relations.

The roundtable was attended by experts, journalists, lawyers as well as friends and family members of Vladimir Kokorev, a Spanish citizen of Russian-Jewish origin who have been kept at prison on the Canary Islands for two years now, with his wife and son.

The family were detained in Panama in September 2015 based on the international warrant issued by Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano of Las Palmas Court No 5, on suspicion of having laundered money on behalf of Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the President of Equatorial Guinea.

The Kokorevs have been in prison for 24 months despite documentary evidence of their innocence submitted by their defense and full transparency of their companies. The case was classified, which prevented their attorneys-at-law from getting access to case materials.

The case was declassified in February 2017, following an official inquiry from members of the European Parliament to Spanish regulatory authorities to clarify the factual background of the case. The attorneys-at-law were astonished to see that the prosecution failed to seize evidence of Kokorevs’ guilt not only for two years of their imprisonment but during the entire “investigation” since 2004.

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Spanish attorneys for Kokorev family believe that the bias in the investigation comes from political motivations, and a recent resolution of judge Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano on extending the pre-trial detention for two more years raises major concerns about her true motives.

Ilya Weisberg, Israeli attorney to Kokorev family, stated the case itself and investigation methods had nothing to do with legal practices, and pointed at a few major violations of the Spanish law.

Everyone was touched by an emotional speech delivered by Inna, Vladimir Kokorev’s niece, who arrived from Israel to take part at the roundtable. She gave us an interview and expressed her opinion on the judge’s resolution to prolong the period of detention for two more years:

“Around two months ago, the judge resolved to continue Kokorevs’ detention for another two years instead of closing the case and releasing them with apologies. Why? What is the reason? Does she want them to die in prison?

My uncle is 66 years old. He suffers from heart diseases. He had a heart attack and a stroke, and underwent surgery two years ago. We know he is barred from professional healthcare at prison, and his wife Yulia has health issues, too. Fortunately, their son Igor is sound but this is because of his young age. Igor, during his imprisonment, has become a father but, thus far, has been unable to see his young daughter who is 18 months old now.

I am not a judicial expert. Suppose, lawyers will tell you the unbiased information about the case. I just hope that you, dear members of parliament, are going to study the materials and give your fair opinion on the current situation on the case.

We used to count on Spanish justice two years ago. But now we cannot believe that a European court of today can be driven by some reasons other than law. Are they driven by the same reasons as the magistrates of the Canary Islands court who labeled all Russians as gangsters and Romanian women as prostitutes, in their private talks? The record of their conversation made the headlines and created a scandal in Spain but the involved judges escaped any prosecution. Is judge Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano who serves justice in the Canary Islands guided by the same reasons?

If my uncle were an Israeli citizen, Israel would stand up for him; however, Kokorev is a citizen of Spain, which ranks as the most anti-Semitic country in the European Union and where some judges still have the attitudes that were typical for the 15th century.

Spain proposes citizenship for Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were forced to flee from Spain 500 years ago. The applicants who can prove their Sephardic descent receive the Spanish passport. By doing this, Spain seeks to enhance its image of a European democratic country. I wish I knew how many people took advantage of that opportunity to claim Spanish citizenship and I want to give advice to those who are not sure whether to apply: Watch out for the country where you would be deprived of any rights and be made whipping boys at any time.

We are not going to accept the situation that our relatives are in prison for no fault of theirs, and we ask European bodies for help and support. Not only are the rights of a single family trampled underfoot on the Canaries, but the European values are also trampled, especially a human right to due process.”

A day before the roundtable in Brussels, it became known that Yulia, Kokorev’s wife, was reportedly released from the Las Palmas prison and that the amount of bail for Kokorev himself was cut down to €600 000, from €2 million. Their defense attorneys believe that even if the Kokorev family are finally released, they would resemble people placed under house arrest as they would be forbidden to leave the Canaries, and the islands would be a new big prison for them.

In his official statement on the results of the roundtable, Fulvio Martusciello said:

“As a member of European Parliament, I speak for justice and the supremacy of law. As chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Israel, I advocate the Jewish belief and legacy. This is my mission. And for both reasons, I am deeply concerned about the Kokorev Case.

It is not for us to decide if Mr. Kokorev is guilty or innocent of the charges against him. But what should concern us all is the fact that he, his wife and son are being denied justice and due process of law. Two years in detention without specific charges with the prospect of a further two years for no good reason is an affront to all that we Europeans believe in.

Being able to answer charges and defend oneself in court are the basic human rights. I am taking the case under special control and propose that the case be reviewed at a European Parliament session as part of the independent investigation.

We encourage and give our full support to Kokorev family’s defense attorneys in order to bring any relevant actions in this matter against Spain before the European Court of Human Rights, and place The Kokorev Case in the High Courts of Madrid. The treatment of Vladimir Kokorev is shameful, anti-Semitic and an affront to the basic values of the EU.”

 

 

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