An Israeli suspected of staging his own disappearance in the West Bank, setting into motion a massive house-to-house manhunt, was indicted Wednesday morning along with an accomplice to the false abduction.
Jerusalem’s district attorney accused 22-year-old Beersheba resident Niv Asraf and his alleged accomplice, Eran Nagaoker, of submitting false information to the police and fraudulently obtaining benefits.
Asraf’s April 2 disappearance near the area of the West Bank where three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed a year ago sent hundreds of soldiers, police and agents of the Shin Bet security agency searching for him in villages surrounding the Palestinian city of Hebron.
Hours later, after a search that police say cost the state millions of shekels, Asraf was found safe and sound in a nearby valley with a sleeping bag and some canned food.
According to the indictment, Asraf decided to stage his kidnapping as a scheme to dodge a debt of hundreds of thousands of shekels he owed the mob for illegal gambling, and also figured the media attention brought by his disappearance would cause a girlfriend that dumped him to change her mind.
The indictment stated that Asraf informed Nagauker of his disappearance plan on their way to the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron. Once they arrived at their destination, the friends finalized the details and searched for a hiding place for Asraf.
Leaving his phone in the car so he couldn’t be traced with it, Asraf set out to the selected hiding spot, as Nagauker drove back to Kiryat Arba, stopping on the way to release the air from one of the vehicles’ tires, and replacing it with a spare.
Once he was back in the settlement, Nagauker approached a police officer and reported that Asraf hadn’t returned to the car after walking toward a nearby Palestinian village to seek tools to fix the flat tire.
At the police officer’s instructions, Nagauker reported the fake incident to the police emergency call center, setting in motion an emergency procedure that included the deployment of special ops units, aircraft and other technological measures. All this, while Asraf was waiting in his hiding place, fully aware of the search taking place around him.
Speaking at a press conference a week after the incident, Asraf apologized “for everything that happened,” and cited his debts to “well-known criminals” as the motive that prompted him to run away, claiming he had been harassed and threatened by criminals and that he had filed numerous complaints with police, but was ignored.
Police subsequently rejected the claim and said Asraf had never turned to them for help. Asraf said he was willing to offer his help as an agent to bring the people he alleges harassed him to justice.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.