Charges are expected to be filed next week against the main suspects held on suspicion of smuggling large amounts of cocaine into Israel on El Al planes, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.
A high-ranking security liaison for the airline and a former Shin Bet official were among those arrested last month for their suspected roles in an international drug-smuggling network.
According to the report, the individuals are thought to have brought drugs into the country on nine occasions via flights from Johannesburg. Although they were only caught with one haul, police were said to have photographic and electronic evidence of the other eight operations.
In the one intercepted haul, police were said to have recovered 20 kilograms of cocaine, with a street value of some NIS 8 million (approximately $2.1 million).
The report also noted that police have now arrested 14 people in connection with the case. According to the Ynet news site, police have recruited at least one individual to turn state’s witness in the case.
Earlier this month the deputy state prosecutor granted police extraordinary permission to extend the remand of five individuals without filing charges. The suspects can be detained beyond 30 days without the usual need for an indictment, Kan reported.
Judge Guy Avnon noted at a hearing that the suspects’ detention could be extended as there was reasonable suspicion based on the evidence presented.
Ynet reported that a warehouse discovered in the center of the country is believed to have been used by the smuggling ring to store and manufacture weapons.
The ring is suspected to have smuggled hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into Israel, and raked in hundreds of millions of shekels.
The main suspect was identified as Rami Yogev, a high-ranking El Al employee who oversees coordination between the airline and the Shin Bet security service, and is also in charge of the airline’s security abroad.
Police believe Yogev used his top security clearance and access to El Al planes to facilitate the drug shipments.
According to Ynet, in some cases the drugs were loaded onto the aircraft via the jet bridge connecting the plane to the terminal, with Yogev ensuring the operation could be carried out without detection via security cameras.
The details of the case were first revealed after a Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court judge rejected, during a remand hearing, a police request to gag the details of the investigation. At the time, four suspects were ordered kept in custody.
The ex-Shin Bet official was identified as Beno Shalom, who previously served as head of security for the Prime Minister’s Office. The police did not indicate the extent of Shalom’s suspected role in the smuggling operation.
Yogev, Shalom and two others were arrested after drugs were discovered in the hand luggage of one of the suspects, who had just arrived on a flight from Johannesburg.
“This is a large and wide-ranging affair,” police attorney Nadav Rappoport told Judge Avnon during an earlier hearing. “The suspects smuggled large quantities of drugs into Israel using complex methods.”
Rappoport said the investigation was in its early stages, and noted that the suspicions against Yogev were “more severe” than against the rest of the suspects.
In his decision to remand the suspects, Avnon said there was “reasonable suspicion that links [Yogev] to the offenses” — given his role and high rank — and rejected the police request to keep the details under gag order.
In a statement to Ynet in response to the suspicions, El Al said it “views the suspicions very seriously, and is helping law enforcement agencies as necessary in investigating the incident.”