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Behind the Headlines Former Indian Jewish Official and Jurist Seeking Asylum in the U.S.

Whether the United States returns Elijah Ephraim Jhirad to India to face criminal charges as the Indian government is demanding or allows him to remain in this country because he believes he is a target of political vengeance in his native land is now headed for a Presidential decision.

Jhirad, a Judge Advocate General of the Indian Navy for 18 years and a president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in India, came to that crossroad on Oct. 4–Yom Kippur–when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review his appeal to stay the extradition proceedings that he has fought in the federal district and circuit courts in New York for more than four years.

Ordinarily, the Deputy Secretary of State–at present Charles W. Robinson–would determine an issue of extradition. In this case, however, considering the currently cool Indian-U.S. governmental relations and the change in the character of the government in New Delhi towards authoritarianism, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger himself is expected to recommend a decision for President Ford’s consideration.

State Department sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the issue has not yet formally reached the Department and, contrary to a report published in media other than JTA, the case is not on the President’s desk. "There is no magic date for a decision," a White House aide said, after the case does arrive there.

The formalities of transferring the case from the U.S. courts to the Department of Justice for remanding Jhirad to the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is expected to take place soon. At that point the question of political asylum for Jhirad enters. Jhirad, 63, has been under $50,000 bail since India sought an extradition warrant Aug. 9, 1972.

ALLEGATIONS BY INDIAN GOVERNMENT

The New Delhi government alleges that 15 years ago when Jhirad was a co-administrator of India’s Naval Prize Fund, he misappropriated money to ineligible recipients. In its extradition suit–which was filed in federal court in New York City four years after charges were brought against Jhirad in India–the Indian government listed 52 allegations but these were narrowed during the legal proceedings to two counts involving rupees to the equivalent of $1600.

According to the allegations, the Naval Fund totalled $400,000 in rupees and there is no record of an accounting or audit for the three-year period 1959-1961. The Indian government contends that when Jhirad left India in July, 1966 for stays in Europe, Israel and in America, it was his intention never to return out of fear of prosecution. However, charges were not filed against him in India until more than two years later–in October, 1968.

The extradition case appeared to turn on the question of whether it was Jhirad’s intention, when he left India in July. 1966, to return to his native land or whether his departure was for the purposes of attending the World Jewish Congress in Brussels and then take a long delayed vacation in Europe.

The federal court in New York held that while his departure was not for the purpose of avoiding prosecution, the court ruled that the last two counts were still valid because the statute of limitations still had two weeks to run when Jhirad allegedly decided not to return.

In view of the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the case, the defense counsel indicated it would not take further judicial action on the extradition. Jhirad’s appeal against extradition was opposed in the Supreme Court by Edwin Steinberg, a New York attorney representing the Indian government. Robert H. Bork, the U.S. Solicitor General, filed a brief that the U.S. government neither supports nor opposes the Jhirad petition against extradition.

CLAIMS INNOCENCE ON ALL CHARGES

Claiming innocence on all charges, Jhirad declares the Indian government is politically motivated against him. It is persisting in its charges, he holds, because of his outspoken defense of Zionism and Israel at a time when the Indian government staunchly supports the Arab bloc, and for his pro-Western anti-Communist views when the Indian government is closely allied with Communist and anti-Western countries.

American friends of Jhirad also contend that a purpose in the Indian government’s pressure for extradition is to demonstrate to its political opponents in India or abroad that its long arm is reaching out for its enemies no matter where they may be or the cost entailed to punish them. These friends also fear that if Jhirad is returned to India, harassment of him there would result in his early demise.

Jhirad, whose counsel is the law firm of Tenzer, Greenblatt. Fallon and Kaplan in New York, contends that two other co-administrators and a secretary were involved in handling the prize fund. These three are in India, it is said, and have not been accused.

The Indian government, it is also said, has never shown proof any money is missing nor ever produced a claimant for that money. The Navy has never made an audit of the fund, named a board of inquiry to examine the charges, nor offered proof of wrongdoing by him, nor sent witnesses to New York to testify against him, the defense claims. The witnesses, according to the defense, were from India’s special police establishment. Jhirad has denied destroying any records.

AN IMPOSING BACKGROUND

An Indian patriot with an esteemed reputation, Jhirad was practicing law in Bombay when World War II broke out. He was given command of a 150-foot boat that searched the Arabian Sea for Nazi submarines. In 1946, he was named Judge Advocate General of the Royal Indian Navy, the third highest position in the Indian government. While in that office, he became a specialist in the law of the sea.

Jhirad, who is of the Bnai Israel Jews who came to the Bombay area before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem more than 1900 years ago, is ardently Jewish. As a student at Bombay University, he organized Jewish students there. In 1937, he visited Palestine at the invitation of the Keren Hayesod. Together with his father, he aided Jewish refugees from Germany and Poland who received asylum in India from the Nazis.

He also introduced programs in India of the Joint Distribution Committee and the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) which still operates schools in Bombay. He was in Israel from 1967 to mid-1972 when he came to the United States. He and his wife have applied for U.S. citizenship.

Among those supporting Jhirad’s cause are Rabbi Harold Gordon, executive vice-president of the New York Board of Rabbis, who has written two letters to President Ford; Rabbi Israel Miller, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who appealed to Undersecretary of State Philip Habib; and Samuel Haber, honorary president of the Joint Distribution Committee, who also has interceded at the White House. Haber worked, with Jhirad in India in 1960-62 in setting up a JDC group there.

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