TEL AVIV (May. 21)
Government officials persist in denying there has been any official intervention by Russia to free Israeli businessman Shabtai Kalmanovich, who is serving a nine-year prison sentence for spying for the old Soviet Union.
Although the news media has published material suggesting the contrary, Yossi Ben-Aharon, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, insisted in an Israel Radio interview Thursday that there have been no official requests for Kalmanovich’s release.
He admitted, however, that “unofficial approaches” had been made by Russian personalities and private individuals in recent months.
“We replied that such requests would only be entertained after Russia resumed diplomatic relations with Israel,” Ben-Aharon said. He implied that now that normal relations have been restored, the case could be reconsidered.
But Israeli newspapers published photocopies of a letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir from the Russian vice president, Alexander Rutskoi, appealing for the release of Kalmanovich for humanitarian reasons, specifically his poor health.
Moreover, Rutskoi is widely believed to have raised the subject with Shamir during his official visit to Jerusalem last month.
Police Minister Ronni Milo told reporters he had heard that unofficial requests have been made on behalf of Kalmanovich by Russians and others. But “the question of his release is up to the political echelons. We in the police and the prison services are only holding him,” Milo said.
SUFFERING FROM GANGRENE
Kalmanovich came to Israel in the 1980s and established himself as a successful businessman and society figure. He was arrested in 1988 and sentenced to nine years in prison for espionage and has been behind bars for four years.
For the past 11 months, Kalmanovich has been in the hospital ward at Ramla prison, reportedly suffering from multiple stomach ulcers and gangrenous legs resulting from a circulatory disorder.
He underwent surgery twice about a year ago but it might be necessary to amputate one of his legs, news reports said.
The prisoner was fit enough for a bedside interview Thursday by Israel Radio. He said he has been visited by Israeli and Russian individuals and was informed that unofficial representations were being made for him.
But he heard nothing officially and doubted he would be released soon, Kalmanovich said.
His lawyer, Amnon Zichroni, said if he was released, Kalmanovich, who has a wife and teenage daughter, would prefer to stay in Israel than return to Russia because of the superior quality of medical care here.
Zichroni, meanwhile, refused to comment on the status of another alleged former Soviet spy.
According to foreign press reports, Professor Marcus Klinberg, former deputy manager of the Biological Research Institute in Ness Ziona, was arrested in 1983 by Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet.
He was reportedly charged with spying for the Soviet Union and imprisoned after a secret trial. But this has never been confirmed officially.