An Israeli woman jailed in Peru over allegations of attempted drug smuggling was released to house arrest on Sunday.
Her family said Hodaya Monsonego has been transferred to the home of a member of Lima’s Jewish community.
Monsonego, 24, was arrested approximately nine months ago in Lima for her alleged involvement in an attempt to smuggle a large amount of cocaine from Peru to Israel.
In a report aired February on Channel 12, her family said that Monsonego is mentally impaired and that she was likely exploited by a friend and the friend’s relative, who, according to the report, was the mastermind of the operation.
President Reuven Rivlin in February wrote a letter to the president of Peru, Martín Vizcarra, asking him to grant clemency to Monsonego, who suffers from “medical issues and has been diagnosed with limited cognitive ability” which impairs her judgment, according to a statement sent out by the president’s office. Rivlin stressed that the young woman has no previous criminal record and that it is “reasonable to believe that her unique condition…led her to be involved in the alleged matter unintentionally.”
On Sunday he welcomed the news of her release from prison and said he hoped it would pave the way to full clemency.
“Thank you to the Peruvian authorities for their response to my request regarding Hodaya Monsonego. I hope this is a step towards her full release soon,” Rivlin said in a tweet.
Monsonego’s sister Tehila told the Kan public broadcaster that the family has spoken with Hodaya and that she seemed to be well.
“We’re so happy, we talked to Hodaya and she’s excited. She feels and sounds fine. We don’t know a lot of details but as far as we’re concerned it is a process, as we are working on the pardon request,” Tehila said.
Her brother Maor told Army Radio the family hoped Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi would be able to intervene and arrange for Hodaya to be brought back to Israel.
“It’s important to remember she has been released to house arrest — the story is not yet over,” he said. “We are working hard for a pardon as she still cannot come back to Israel. We ask Gabi Ashkenazi to support us and help get her released.”
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 24, 2020
According to the family, the saga began when Monsonego’s friend, identified only by her first name Smadar, invited her on a trip abroad and paid for her ticket. Smadar and Monsonego are friends from school.
Her siblings, interviewed on Channel 12, said Monsonego was happy and excited to be going on the trip and that at first she did not suspect anything was amiss. Monsonego’s brother Ahiya told the TV channel that he spoke to Smadar before the trip and that she explained that she was taking a trip to Madrid with her sister and her sister’s kids and indicated that Monsonego could perhaps help out with the children, whose ages were not specified.
The siblings said Monsonego communicated with them daily from Madrid and sent them pictures and selfies from the city.
Monsonego’s sister Tehila said events took a turn when suddenly after a week and a half in Madrid, Hodaya told her they were flying to the US state of Montana. Tehila said she asked why they were headed there but didn’t receive a clear answer. After about a day, Monsonego could not be reached, her sister recalled.
Monsonego in fact was never in Montana, though she thought that is where she was headed, according to the report. From Madrid, Monsonego, her friend Smadar and her nephews flew to Lima where they stayed in a local hostel for a few days before making their way back to the airport, ostensibly to head back home to Israel.
According to the report, the two adult women and the two children traveled with luggage that appeared to be newly bought. The local police, which according to the report was trailing them from the moment they arrived in Peru, swooped in at the airport and arrested them after finding a large amount of cocaine in the luggage. Monsonego and Smadar were detained and the children were sent home to their parents in Israel.
Monsonego’s siblings said the news came as a shock and that for the first week after her arrest, they were unaware of the charges against her.
The siblings spoke of a young woman who was easily impressionable and was often taken advantage of by others due to a cognitive disability.
In a letter sent to authorities in Peru, the welfare department of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council where Monsonego lives said she “has almost no mental abilities,” and can be easily influenced by those who show her affection and attention. “Because of her borderline personality [sic] and a deep need for affection, she can be easily manipulated by other people and not understanding [sic] were [sic] she is getting in [sic].”
“She’s 24, but she’s not really 24,” explained her sister Tehila. “We have to imagine that right now, in jail, sits a 12-year-old girl. Her mental capacity is that of a 12- to 13-year-old girl.”
According to the Channel 12 report, the person behind the smuggling operation is Yoni Mellul, Smadar’s former brother-in-law. According to the indictment against him, Mellul approached Smadar and asked her to fly to Peru to bring back some suitcases. He suggested she bring a friend and even fly with his children, to avoid raising suspicion. Mellul bankrolled the whole trip and directed the operation.
Smadar was to fly back with the suitcases, in which some 20 kilograms of cocaine were hidden.
Mellul denied the charges against him. According to documents seen by Channel 12, Smadar had traveled to Peru several times in recent years, including one trip with Mellul.