Famous case features in NY art show
A courtroom sketch has resurfaced from a high-profile and controversial 1986 Bermuda case in which Israeli arms dealers suspected of trading with Iran drew world headlines with their deportation from the Island.
The sketch has joined 30 years’ worth of sensational courtroom scenes on the walls of the World Trade Art Gallery in New York — in a retrospective of artwork by court illustrator Elizabeth Williams.
Lawyer Saul Froomkin, who was Attorney General at the time of the notorious case, knows the picture well: a near double holds a place of pride on his office wall.
“I remember while the case was going on, there was this artist doing quite incredible work, and I asked her would it be possible to get one,” Mr Froomkin told The Royal Gazette.
“She handed that one over to me, and I’ve cherished it ever since.”
Ms Williams’ picture shows the courtroom during proceedings over four Israelis and one American caught by US authorities after they were held in Bermuda over an arms deal with Iran.
Their capture, courtesy of Bermuda, came in April, 1986 — shortly before the infamous Iran-Contra affair was exposed, rocking the US.
“They were allegedly in breach of US sanctions,” recalled Mr Froomkin of the group, including retired Israeli General Avraham Bar-am, who were netted after landing on Bermuda soil.
“Rudy Giuliani, who was then the District Attorney for the Southern District of New York, called me and said they had this major investigation going on, and they needed assistance with their sting operation.”
Mr Froomkin as AG wasn’t told that the deal was taking place with the quiet approval of agencies within the US government.
“These individuals flew down here on a private jet for a meeting with an undercover operator, and when they arrived, because they declared that they were here as visitors when in fact they were here to do business, they were arrested by Immigration and incarcerated.”
While the group languished in Bermuda jail, local authorities had to fly down the appropriate foodstuffs from New York to fit their religious requirements, Mr Froomkin recalled.
The group were eventually ordered deported, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal, and the men were flown to New York — where “a huge convoy of police, and God knows who else, picked them up”, he said.
Bermudian authorities weren’t told until later that the arms deal was being carried out “on the consent of at least one agency in the US”, he said — leaving the former AG “rather embarrassed”.
“I took a lot of heat, but at the time I thought we were doing the right thing, assisting our US neighbours.”
The picture shows Mr Froomkin arguing in a Bermuda court alongside defence QC Brian Smedley.
Along with Brig. Gen. Bar-Am, the sting caught US lawyer Samuel Evans, US-Israeli citizen William Northrop and Israeli arms dealers Guriel and Israel Eisenberg. They were eventually freed.
Aside from his own sketch of the proceedings, Mr Froomkin has a plaque of thanks from the US Customs Service as a memento — and has taken the occasion to order a copy of Ms Williams’ courtroom art for himself.
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