Japanese High Court Rejects Hassidic Appeal

Tokyo High Court affirms harsh verdict of six years at hard labor against a Hassidic youth accused of drug smuggling - but deducts “time served.”

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 17:03


The Tokyo High Court has failed to overturn the harsh verdict of six years at hard labor handed down against a Hassidic youth accused of smuggling drugs. However, it has deducted “time served.” 

Yaakov Yosef Greenwald of Israel was arrested, together with two of his friends, in the Tokyo airport three years ago when $3.6 million worth of Ecstasy pills were found in the false bottoms of suitcases they were carrying. The three youths were all under 20 years old when they were arrested. They all passed Japanese lie detectors tests showing they had been tricked by a “friend” who asked them to take the suitcases, assured them that all was legal, and gave them $1,000 each for their efforts. The “friend” has since been charged and imprisoned in Israel. 

Ever since the boys were arrested, their trials have attracted much attention in the Jewish world, as well as contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars for their legal costs.

The District Court’s sentence of six years – and a $50,000 fine – was not overturned, but the presiding High Court judge showed leniency in deducting the 814 days of time served from the sentence, even though these were not spent at forced labor. Supporters hope that Yaakov Yosef can be transferred to Israel for the remainder of his sentence before the forced labor is to begin. Given the one-third off for good behavior and the like, the optimistic expectation is that he can be out of jail ten months from now - nearly four years after his ordeal began.

The prosecution demanded a 13-year sentence. The District Court found that though the polygraph showed he did not know what he was carrying, it did not rule out that he might have suspected something. The judges sentenced him to six years at hard labor because he should have suspected that something was amiss.

Following the High Court's decision, Yakov Yosef was amazingly upbeat, reported Elimelech Bindiger, who has been very active on the boys’ behalf and who visited Yaakov Yosef immediately after the verdict was handed down. Greenwald said he was glad he filed the appeal, and that over the past few months, he was able to study two difficult sections of Jewish Law and over 100 pages of the Babylonian Talmud. Prisoners at forced labor have no time to pray, let alone study.

One of the three youths, a minor when he was arrested, has already concluded his prison sentence in Israel, and the third, Yoel Zev Goldstein, is scheduled to be sentenced on August 29. His trial took longer than expected because of court technicalities and a change of judges. It is felt that Yaakov Yosef’s appeal was beneficial for Goldstein, in that it brought to light substantial evidence on his behalf.