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Tel Aviv court orders bank to transfer Abramovich donation to ZAKA

Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot had frozen Roman Abramovich's bank account for fear of E.U. and U.K. sanctions.

Russian-Israeli tycoon Roman Abramovich arrives at the Western Wall for his son Aaron's bar mitzvah, Dec. 20, 2022. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Russian-Israeli tycoon Roman Abramovich arrives at the Western Wall for his son Aaron's bar mitzvah, Dec. 20, 2022. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

The Tel Aviv District Court instructed Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot on Wednesday to transfer Roman Abramovich’s 8 million-shekel ($2.2 million) donation to ZAKA, a volunteer search and rescue organization.

The Russian-Israeli billionaire made the charitable contribution to ZAKA in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre.

But the bank refused to transfer the money, afraid of exposing itself to risk from E.U. and U.K. sanctions imposed on Abramovich in 2022 as part of an attempt to target Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies over the Russia-Ukraine war.

Although Israel was not subject to those sanctions, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot froze Abramovich’s bank account out of an abundance of caution.

Abramovich and ZAKA then sued the bank to release the funds, financial news site Globes reported.

This week, Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara sided with the bank, saying it would be exposed to E.U. sanctions.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge Yardena Seroussi dismissed the attorney general’s concerns and ordered the funds transferred.

“Is it reasonable for the bank to adopt European sanctions when there is no dispute that they do not apply to Israel? Especially when it is a case of a donation to an organization that is helping Israel in a difficult time,” Seroussi said.

She said the bank offered no concrete evidence that it would suffer economic damages from completing the transaction.

“The bank did not examine the merits of the matter and on the basis of individual data, whether it is appropriate to exclude the transfer of a donation from an Israeli account to an Israeli account, while examining the benefit that will arise from this against the potential damage,” the judge said.

Seroussi added that the bank”copy-pasted” the foreign sanctions without exercising independent judgment.

Abramovich’s attorney Shmuel Cassuto thanked the court, noting that ZAZA receives minimal state funding and is “an important asset for the State of Israel.”

Cassuto earlier criticized the attorney general’s opinion, describing it as a return to the British Mandate.

“If, tomorrow, Britain imposes sanctions on Israeli government ministers or IDF officers, will the State Attorney’s Office rush to block their bank accounts in Israel then too? It must be remembered that we are talking about a philanthropic donation on Israeli territory and a difficult hour for the state in wartime,” he said.

In her opinion, Baharav-Miara had acknowledged that the sanctions had not been adopted by Israel, yet insisted that circumventing them would expose not only Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot to sanctions, but potentially all Israeli banks.

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