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Extradited modeling agent charged with sexual assault

Shai Avital accused of two attacks, one against 16-year-old girl who claims he gave her pill that left her helpless; another 24 complaints still being investigated

Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital, who is accused of sexual assault, in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, January 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital, who is accused of sexual assault, in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, January 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Prosecutors filed sex offense charges Monday at Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court against modeling agent Shai Avital on suspicion he assaulted two women, one of whom was 16 at the time of the alleged crime.

Avital, 45, was extradited earlier this month from the Netherlands after spending over a year on the run while Israeli police sought to question him over dozens of complaints of sexual assault.

He was indicted for an indecent act, indecent act by force, and indecent act while taking advantage of a woman in a state of unconsciousness or another state that prevents her from giving free consent.

The charges were filed the day after police said they had completed their investigation into two cases that were the basis for the extradition order and that there was enough evidence to suspect a crime was committed.

Though another 24 women have filed accusations against Avital — including two more since he arrived back in the country — prosecutors only filed charges over the two cases fully investigated so far. Police are continuing to probe the other accusations.

According to the charge sheet, the two incidents happened when Avital was the owner of Elite Model Israel agency.

In one 2019 incident, a woman who worked the bar in a Tel Aviv club became acquainted with Avital. She claims that during an event when she was working the bar, Avital took her to a back room, closed the door, lay on top of her, and kissed her even though she closed her mouth and tried to push him away.

The woman also alleges that Avital grabbed hold of her breasts beneath her shirt. She told investigators she tried to escape and banged on the door of the room for help. Avital then allegedly approached her from behind and slid his hand into her pants while forcing her to turn and face him. The door was opened from the outside and the woman escaped.

Modeling agent Shai Avital sits on a flight from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv following his extradition from Holland, January 3, 2022. (Screenshot/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The woman told investigators that after the incident she told another bar worker, checked with security if there was a surveillance camera in the room, and called a friend to tell him what had happened, Channel 12 reported. Police took testimony from all those the woman says she spoke to.

Avital claims he did not attack the woman and that the two had gone to the room together to use cocaine, according to the report.

In the other case, a woman who was 15 in 2014 became acquainted with Avital and the two had a professional relationship during which they met several times. In 2015, Avital allegedly told the girl he had a horse and asked her to join him for a ride. At the ranch, Avital offered the girl a pill that he said was ecstasy, which she took, but soon afterward she began to feel dulled and no longer in control of her body, prosecutors say.

She claims Avital was aware of her condition and took advantage of it to carry out several indecent acts including rubbing his penis against her and putting his hands beneath her clothing to touch intimate parts of her body. When they later returned to Avital’s apartment he allegedly undressed to his underwear and called her to join him but the girl called a friend to come and pick her up.

Avital claims he did not give the girl a pill, that he did not attack her, and that they only rode a horse, Channel 12 reported.

Prosecutors asked that Avital be held in custody until the end of proceedings, telling the court that the number of accusations filed by women against him shows “the respondent’s offensive pattern of action and the exploitation of his position” and also accusing Avital of having “an uncontrollable sex drive.”

At the beginning of the month, police held the first confrontation between the suspect and the woman who claims she was assaulted at the ranch.

Avital, who denies any wrongdoing, left Israel in 2021 shortly before media reports about a slew of accusations began to surface against him.

He was finally arrested five months ago in Amsterdam. In November, the Netherlands agreed to an Israeli request that he be extradited.

Avital arrived back in the country under police escort on January 3, although he was not handcuffed on the flight.

Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital (C) poses for a picture with Israeli models during an event on a rooftop in Tel Aviv, on September 17, 2017. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Investigative reports about Avital’s conduct toward women have been published by Israeli journalists as early as 2008, but an official criminal investigation began only in July 2021, after Channel 13 news released evidence of Avital sending models threatening messages.

Messages of a sexual nature allegedly sent by Avital to several women, including minors, were also shown by the network.

Several women also claimed Avital exposed himself in front of them, including at least one case that resulted in them having sex afterward, which continued regularly after Avital promised the apparent victim would be featured on a popular reality show.

Other women accused him of forcibly groping and kissing them and licking their faces. The allegations span the past two decades.

In leaked text messages, Avital appeared to boast that he had connections with the police and was not afraid of any complaints against him.

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