A deputy mayor of a city in central Israel was interrogated Friday by the police’s Lahav 433 major crimes division on suspicion of having attempted to smuggle a Ukrainian woman into Israel.
Police said the public official, who was also questioned over allegedly receiving items fraudulently, was released under restrictive conditions.
The Ukrainian woman, in her 30s, who arrived in Israel on a flight on Thursday evening was to remain in detention until Sunday, police said.
According to Hebrew-language media reports, the woman, who arrived from Thailand, told the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority that she came to Israel to participate in a conference connected to the deputy mayor.
She presented authorities with an invitation letter she received from the public official, which was also signed by him. Reports said the conference did not actually exist.
The Haaretz daily reported that authorities found on her phone indications that she intended to come to Israel for prostitution.
According to a Globes financial newspaper reporter, the woman told authorities: “He told me to just say all the time that I was coming to an educational conference related to security systems, and emphasized that I should say that I’m not really supposed to know what will be at the conference.”
Police were also investigating whether the deputy mayor provided forged documents to other Ukrainian women as well, Haaretz reported.
Israel saw an influx of Ukrainian refugees arriving in the country in the initial months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In August it was reported that nearly half of the 33,000 Ukrainians who fled to Israel, have since left.
Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata has said Israel has taken in almost 50,000 immigrants from Russia and Ukraine since the start of the invasion.
Under existing regulations, Ukrainians do not need a visa for a visit of up to three months in Israel.
In 2015, police busted a women-trafficking and prostitution network in central Israel, in which young Russian and Ukrainian women were convinced to come to Israel on tourist visas, promising they would find work amid the difficult economic situations in their home countries.