- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

JERUSALEM — Israel’s ambassador to Britain faces fresh embarrassment after he was accused of using diplomatic influence to secure the early release of his daughter from a six-year jail sentence for smuggling cocaine.

The appointment last summer of Zvi Heifetz, 48, a Russian-born lawyer and former newspaper tycoon, was heavily criticized by British-based Jewish groups, who cited his lack of diplomatic experience and relatively poor grasp of English.

His ambassadorship was disrupted further this spring when he was recalled to Israel to face legal investigators looking into a money-laundering scandal involving Vladimir Gusinsky, a Russian-Israeli tycoon.

Now, the early release of the ambassador’s daughter, Lee, 21, from a jail in Peru has prompted accusations of favoritism. Miss Heifetz was convicted of smuggling about 10 pounds of cocaine, with a street value of about $456,000, from Peru to Holland.

When Mr. Heifetz was being considered for the post in London, he asked the Israeli press not to publicize her conviction. His daughter, however, turned herself into something of a high-profile inmate at the Santa Monica jail in Lima, the Peruvian capital. In September last year, 10 months into her sentence, she won a beauty contest after appearing in high heels and a skimpy top.

Miss Heifetz was released two months ago after she served less than 18 months of her sentence, which was handed down in May last year and then reduced to three years in February.

“He’s got a lot of cards stacked up against him, and his daughter is another card,” said Jerry Lewis, senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies, Britain’s most influential Jewish association.

Mr. Heifetz, who flew regularly to Peru to visit his daughter in jail, insisted that the issue would not drive him from office. “I will not step down,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. “Why should I? No one has asked me to.”

His daughter’s release not only has affected Mr. Heifetz’s diplomatic career but also has damaged the reputation of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, whose approval ratings have plummeted to just 10 percent.

Political opponents have accused Mr. Toledo, whose Belgian-born Jewish wife, Eliane Karp, holds Israeli citizenship, of intervening to arrange for Miss Heifetz’s release. It has also been noted that the chief of the presidential security detail, Avi Dan On, is a former Israeli intelligence official.

Peruvian opposition politicians have seized on television footage of a meeting in a car between the president’s brother, Pedro, and Hugo Sosa, a member of the parole board examining Miss Heifetz’s case. When the two realized that they were being filmed, Mr. Sosa covered his face with a newspaper before the car sped off.

Mr. Heifetz denies using his position to free his daughter from jail.

“I’m accused of trying to help my daughter just because she got a few months off her sentence,” he said. “I never used any diplomatic connection to help her.”

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