In rare move, El Al drug smuggling suspects held beyond 30 days without charges

In rare move, El Al drug smuggling suspects held beyond 30 days without charges

Police believe ring used company planes to transport cocaine to Israel; suspect said to have turned state’s witness; weapons warehouse used by gang reportedly uncovered

Illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport, August 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport, August 5, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The deputy state prosecutor has granted police extraordinary permission to extend the remand of five individuals held on suspicion of smuggling large amounts of cocaine into Israel on El Al planes, without filing charges. The suspects can be detained beyond 30 days without the usual need for an indictment, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.

Judge Guy Avnon noted at a hearing that the suspects’ detention could be extended as there was reasonable suspicion based on the evidence presented.

A high-ranking security liaison for El Al and a former Shin Bet official were among those arrested last month for their suspected roles in the international drug-smuggling network, which a police attorney dubbed “a wide-ranging affair.”

Last week it was revealed that 11 suspects had been arrested in total, and that police had recruited an individual to turn state’s witness in the case.

Illustrative of cocaine (photo credit: CC BY-SA Valerie Everett, Flickr)
File: Illustrative photo of cocaine (CC BY-SA Valerie Everett, Flickr)

The Ynet news site reported that a warehouse was discovered in the center of the country which it’s believed was used by the smuggling ring to store and manufacture weapons.

The ring smuggled hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into Israel, and raked in hundreds of millions of shekels, the Ynet news site reported.

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.

ILLUSTRATIVE: Jet bridge connecting plane to terminal at Denver International Airport, Sept. 7, 2006 (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The members of the network are suspected of being as “organized as a criminal network,” carrying out the scheme on multiple occasions in a methodical manner while evading discovery.

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 their investigation. At the time, four suspects were ordered to remain 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 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 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 to Avnon that the police suspicions against Yogev were “more severe” than against the rest of the suspects.

In his decision, 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, El Al responded to the allegations saying the airline, “views the suspicions very seriously, and is helping law enforcement agencies as necessary in investigating the incident.”

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