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Israeli arrested in South Africa in connection with El Al cocaine smuggling ring

Shai Alon said to have been detained at the request of Israeli authorities seeking his extradition; suspects accused of bringing 150 kilos of the drug into Israel

El Al Airlines' Boeing 737s are pictured on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, March 10, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
El Al Airlines' Boeing 737s are pictured on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, March 10, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

An Israeli man was arrested in South Africa on Thursday in connection with a cocaine smuggling ring uncovered in 2018 in which security personnel working for El Al allegedly used their clearance to smuggle 150 kilograms of cocaine through Ben Gurion International Airport.

Shai Alon was arrested after Israeli authorities asked their South African counterparts to extradite him, it was reported Friday.

The Ynet news site reported that it was alleged that Alon acted as a drug courier on three occasions and also recruited someone else to carry the contraband.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, Alon left Israel in 2018 and has not returned since then.

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

Last year six fresh charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and importing a dangerous drug were brought against seven men allegedly involved in the smuggling ring based on testimony by a state’s witness.

The defendants are Avi Peretz, David Dadon, Yaniv Hazan, Lidan Shatui, Asher Mesilti, Yaakov Felician and Rami Yogev.

Yogev, 56, is a former high-ranking El Al security liaison, who was in charge of the Israeli national carrier’s security abroad. His position gave him access to restricted areas of Ben Gurion Airport and the ability to bypass standard security checkpoints.

Charges were initially brought against nine suspects in the case in January 2019. According to that indictment, the suspects brought a total of 150 kilograms of cocaine from South Africa into the country on 10 occasions over a period of several months.

The drugs were allegedly put in hand luggage and smuggled past security in Johannesburg before being carried by a courier onto flights to Israel.

At Ben Gurion, the hand luggage was allegedly handed off to Yogev as soon as the plane doors were opened and he then brought the bag past security and into Israel.

Yogev and three others — including ex-Shin Bet official Beno Shalom, who previously served as head of security for the Prime Minister’s Office — were arrested in November 2018 after drugs were discovered in the hand luggage of one of the suspects who had just arrived on a flight from Johannesburg.

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