Suspect in Japan Case May Be Unfit For Trial; Pidyon Shevuyim Efforts Stepped Up


japanjailThe principal suspect in the case involving the three yeshiva bochurim who were duped into carrying contraband into Japan has been sent for psychiatric evaluation and may be declared unfit to stand trial, according to a report. The suspect is accused of smuggling 90,000 Ecstasy pills from Holland to Japan. The Tel Aviv District Court ordered the evaluation in response to an appeal against his detention in which his attorney, Yair Nehorai, argued that he suffered from manic depression and might be unfit to stand trial. This suspect and an other man were arrested early last week by the Tel Aviv police on suspicion of involvement in a drug-smuggling ring uncovered last April when Japanese police arrested three bochurim at an airport in Shiba, Japan, and found 90,000 Ecstasy pills in their suitcases. That prompted an international investigation involving Interpol as well as national police forces, that ultimately resulted in the arrest of the two men. One was released one day after being arrested, but the other remained in detention, prompting Nehorai to appeal.

In his appeal, Nehorai said that his client was on regular medication to treat his manic depression, and the state had even declared him partially disabled on account of this illness. Therefore, he argued, his client might be unfit to stand trial, and if so, there was no justification for continuing to hold him in detention – not to mention the fact that the state would be wasting its time and money by pursuing the case against him.

Moreover, Nehorai argued, his client’s family was very concerned that the pressures of being interrogated by the police and the poor conditions in the lock-up would cause his fragile mental condition to deteriorate, provoking a bout of full-fledged depression.

The court agreed that the suspect should be sent for psychiatric evaluation in the next few days. However, it decided, he should remain in detention until the results of the evaluation are received.

 The Nightmare in Japan; Pidyon Shevuyim Efforts Stepped Up

                The trials for the yeshiva bochurim charged with smuggling drugs into Japan are set to take place very soon, and efforts to prove the boys’ innocence and secure their release have been stepped up. Askanim have embarked on an all-out campaign to raise funds for legal fees, to ensure that the bochurim are granted their best chance at freedom. At the same time, rabbonim across the globe are urging their kehillos to be mispallel for the shevuyim.

                As the trials loom, details of the story are coming to light. The saga began before the Nissan Bein Hazmanim, when eleven bachurim who were involved in various chessed projects were approached by the coordinator of their chessed group, and asked if they would like to earn some spending money for Bein Hazmanim. The coordinator, a respected member of the community at the time, said that he needed three boys to transport antiques from Amsterdam to a friend in Japan, so that they could be displayed at a Japanese art exhibition. He said that the boys would receive one thousand dollars for their efforts, upon their return.

Three of the boys, Yoel, Yossy, and Yaakov Yosef, agreed to go. They were extremely naïve and trusting, and did not suspect that the matter was shady or illegal. Instead, they considered it a superb opportunity that would give them much-needed pocket money for the upcoming Bein Hazmanim and yom tov. They trusted their coordinator implicitly, and also recognized the name of the antique dealer who would be giving them the antiques. They were told that the act was one hundred percent legal, and that they were not required to declare the antiques at Japanese customs.

The bachurim traveled to Amsterdam, but instead of receiving packages of antiques, they were handed empty suitcases, and told to use them for their personal belongings. The dealer in Amsterdam explained that the antiques were hidden in the suitcases’ false bottoms, as a precaution against theft or loss. When the boys tried to pry open the suitcase bottoms, they found that it was impossible to open them without destroying the suitcases. In their naiveté, they transferred their belongings to the double-bottomed suitcases, and boarded their flight to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

There, they placed their luggage on a conveyor belt, for customs clearance. The customs officials manning the x-ray luggage scanner noticed the false bottoms on the suitcases, and attempted to pry them open. When they failed, they smashed the suitcases apart. Inside each suitcase, they discovered packets of methylenedioxymethamphetamine – an illegal narcotic better known as Ecstasy – worth a total of 360 million yen (approximately $3.6 million). The pills had been cleverly concealed between  sponge and carbon paper, to prevent the suitcases’ false bottoms from showing up on x-ray.

The boys were immediately detained by Japanese authorities. They did not know what was wrong at this point. It took several hours until a Hebrew speaking interpreter arrived and explained that they were being charged with drug trafficking. The bachurim were stunned. In their sheltered yeshiva lives, they had barely been aware of the fact that such narcotics existed. Now they realized that they had been especially selected for their ignorance, and cruelly exploited by a dangerous criminal ring. The bachurim were taken to the Chiba Detention Center, about an hour’s drive from Tokyo.

It was days before they saw a lawyer or a familiar face. With no kosher food to eat, they subsisted on vegetables. Their prayers, and the hope that caring Jews would somehow find a way to help them, sustained them.

When news of the boys’ arrest reached Dayan Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss of Antwerp, Belgium, he arranged to fly to Japan. Dayan Weiss is known for his askanus on behalf of incarcerated Jews in prisons throughout the world. The dayan was accompanied by Mr. Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli lawyer who had some experience in dealing with the Japanese justice system. With the help of a Japanese lawyer, Dayan Weiss was able to meet with the prosecutor in the case, and learn about the charges against the boys.

The charges were severe. All three boys had been indicted for drug violations, which carry a prison sentence of ten years or more. Yaakov Yosef and Yossy, who were both under the age of 20, and considered minors by Japanese law, were initially assigned to juvenile court. But in light of the large amounts of drugs they had been carrying (7-8 kg per boy) and the perceived severity of their alleged crimes, the Japanese authorities transferred their cases to adult court, although Yossy was only 17 years old at the time of arrest.

Japan’s stance on illegal substances is one of the toughest in the world. In general, the Japanese have a zero tolerance attitude to crime. This explains why their crime rate is infinitesimal compared to other countries. The country also has no extradition treaty with Israel, and has never extradited a foreign prisoner to a country with which it has no such treaty, so there was no chance that the boys could be tried in Israel. The Japanese are also insistent on rehabilitating convicted criminals, to the extent that they will not release any prisoner until they are certain that the prisoner is absolutely incapable of engaging in criminal activity ever again. This “rehabilitation” crushes the spirit of even the most toughened criminals.

Askanim have invested tremendous efforts in locating and recruiting top Japanese defense lawyers for the boys. There is a 99.7% conviction rate (!) for all criminal indictments in Japan, and the chances of acquittal are highly remote. The unlikelihood of success made it difficult for the askanim to convince top lawyers to represent the boys. It was only after lawyers met with the boys, and were convinced of their innocence, that they agreed to accept the cases. Askanim then arranged for the lawyers to travel to Israel, so that they could see the environment the boys grew up in, and witness firsthand the mindset of yeshiva boys, who are extremely trusting and willing to help strangers.

The lawyers, prison guards, and interrogators have expressed their great admiration for the boys, and acknowledged that they are vastly different than the other inmates in the Chiba Detention Center. From the very beginning of their internment, the boys’ innocence was abundantly clear.

It is blatantly evident from the over 2500 pages of recorded grilling interrogation, conducted over the 21 days immediately after their arrest, that the three yeshivah bochurim have very limited familiarity with the outside world; were manipulated by someone who had abused the trust they had in him; and had no knowledge whatsoever of the contents of their luggage.

Each of the 3 boys individually underwent court ordered polygraph testing during questioning. The results of all three attested to their innocence. A highly acclaimed federal polygraph expert said that scientific evidence is in strong favor of the boys, since the margin of error when conducting three individual polygraph tests is highly remote.

There are other indicators of their innocence. The boys acted with none of the inhibitions and precautions typical of people engaged in a crime. They told all of their friends that they were going to Japan, and were extremely nonchalant both during the flight and as their luggage was being examined. This is completely contrary to what would be expected of smugglers. In retrospect, their behaviour even appears reckless – not typical for people evading the law.

The boys also gained great admiration for their behaviour in prison. Their fine middos stand out amongst the criminals who occupy the other prison cells, to the extent that their prison guards wondered aloud if they came from a different planet than the rest of humanity – which in a sense, they did. Yeshiva is worlds away from the street life in Japan or elsewhere.

The bachurim’s stringent adherence to Yiddishkeit under difficult conditions is truly remarkable, and has garnered additional respect. Never once did any of the bachurim eat non-kosher food. Although there is a kiosk where refreshments are available for sale, and the boys’ diets are extremely limited, they do not sacrifice their ideals and purchase non-kosher food.  This is even more remarkable in light of the fact that the boys don’t have each other for moral support, as they are being held in separate buildings, and have not seen each other since they were detained.

The bachurim spend their days engrossed in Torah and tefillah. They wear their tefillin for two or three hours each morning, and learn for many uninterrupted hours longer. One bachur completes Sefer Tehillim every day. The bachurim are covering mesechtes, and constantly receiving new seforim, which they learn with great intensity and concentration. They also perform mitzvos to the best of their ability. One bachur spreads tissues on his table on Shabbos, to bring kavod to the holy day. Another asked a sheilah if he is allowed to recite Kiddush Levanah on the seventeenth day of the month, because that is the only day the moon is visible from his prison cell window. The bachurim are imbued with great emunah. One bachur told Rabbi Aron Nezri, an askan from London who visits regularly, “However much you think you know what emunah is about, until you’re in my position, you don’t know what it means.”

                The boys are suffering greatly. The loneliness and separation from friends and family is extremely difficult, as is the isolation, the hunger, and the cold. They miss their families and friends terribly. And celebrating Yom Tov without a shofar, without arbah minim, without a menorah, is devastating. In the words of Rabbi Nezri, “the boys are going mad from not having the things they need for Yom Tov.” And always, the upcoming trials loom ahead. The thought of remaining in prison for many years is daunting, both to the boys and to their families.

It is not just the thought of spending years in prison that frightens the bachurim. It is fear of the harsh conditions prevalent in Japanese prisons that is even worse. The boys’ current situation in the detention center would appear blissful, in comparison to internment in a real prison. Now, with their personal Yemei Din nearing, their lives are literally hanging in balance.

One of the trials has already taken place. The results are as of yet unknown, and closing arguments are scheduled in the coming weeks. The other trials will follow soon after. In the interim, the boys, their families, and all of Klal Yisroel are davening fervently for a favourable outcome.

Askanim from England, the United States, Belgium and Eretz Yisroel have joined Dayan Weis in his efforts to procure legal and humanitarian assistance. The cost of legal assistance is astronomical, and has already topped $800,000. A minimum of an additional $500,000 is required to procure additional legal assistance for the trials. Askanim are also bracing themselves for the possible need for an appeal if any of the boys is chalilah convicted, and for the likelihood that the prosecution will appeal an acquittal. 

Gedolei Yisroel are unanimous in their support of the bachurim, and ask that the community undertake this great cause of pidyon shevuyim. When the Novominsker Rebbe was asked to sign an appeal for the boys, he said, “I consider it a great privilege to help”. All of the rabbonim spoke about the greatness of pidyon shevuyim – a mitzvah that is rare in our days.

Every Jew in the community is urged to open his heart and hand, and participate in this tremendous mitzvah.

 All are urged to daven for Yoel Zev ben Mirel Rissa Chava, Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel and Yosef ben Ita Rivka.

{Dovid Newscenter}


  1. Each article I read about these boys ends with an appeal for pidyon shevuyim – but there is never an address or a contact to make in this regard. Is there a trustworthy organization / address in charge of this?
    Thank you and tizku l’mitzvos.

  2. I used to be able to easily forward these articles to friends and family by your old format. Now I don’t know how to do it or if it can even be done. Please send me the forwarding instructions, as it used to be a great way for me to share information.

  3. Like Simcha I too want to IY”H donate to this great Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuim. Please direct me to a LEGITIMATE website that has a LEGITIMATE account for this purpose that I can donate to online. If there isn’t one already perhaps someone can suggest it to the Rabbonim involved to open up webbased donations thru paypal or something. Tizku L’Mitzvos U’LMaasim Tovim!

  4. Dear Brothers,
    I am also eager to help,I found this page

    Hamodia also put a number of reliable adresses where to spend but before you undertake something, call to Dayan Weiss in Antwerp 00323 233 2662. He is a very decent person and very involved in this case and he can tell all of you where to spend without fear.
    If someone is in Israel,call Mr Yidl Jacob
    00972 3 578 25 48.

    This is the first concrete step which I undertake,namely this mail.

    I want to do other things but I want to consult the abovementioned people because Japanese are very cautious and moderate.

    Gut shabbes

    Ben Moshe