Israeli modeling agent to remain in custody in the Netherlands on sex abuse charges

Court extends detention of Shai Avital for two weeks, as lawyers complain that accusations against client have changed from indecent acts to rape

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)
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)

A Dutch Court ruled on Monday that modeling agent Shai Avital, arrested in Amsterdam last week over 26 sexual harassment complaints against him in Israel, will remain in custody for at least two weeks.

The judge explained that his ruling was necessary to prevent Avital from fleeing the country. Israeli prosecutors can now officially start extradition proceedings to return him to Israel.

Avital’s lawyers said they will appeal the ruling. In a statement, attorney Shoshi Gaz repeated claims that the legal team was baffled by the severity of the accusations against their client in the court, noting that he was now being accused of rape when the initial extradition request only listed indecent acts.

Sharon Nahari, another lawyer representing the suspect, complained that he had been barred by the judge from entering the courtroom: “This is a serious distortion of the law and a violation of the rights of representation and a fair trial,” he said.

Extradition proceedings are likely to take a long time, as Avital and his legal team gears up for a fight in Dutch courts.

Avital also possesses a Portuguese passport, making him a citizen of the European Union. This complicates the effort to transfer him from the custody of authorities in the Netherlands — an EU member state — to Israel.

Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital speaks with Channel 12 news. (Video screenshot)

Israel’s extradition letter to Dutch authorities is based on two allegations against Avital including indecent acts, out of the 26 complaints against him. However, law enforcement officials claim that they possess strong evidence against the suspect in seven incidents, the Ynet news site reported on Friday.

The arrest in the Netherlands last Thursday comes more than a year after police issued an initial arrest warrant for Avital, who represented some of the country’s top models.

An Interpol arrest warrant was issued approximately three months ago, following an intelligence operation to monitor his travels between several European countries, according to police.

Avital was living in Hungary a year ago when he was told by Israeli authorities to return immediately to Israel, where he would be taken into custody and questioned over the allegations. Despite his lawyers previously saying that he would come to Israel if summoned, he remained overseas.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Avital has been traveling between Turkey, France, Portugal, and Belgium during his time abroad.

Police launched the criminal investigation into Avital in July last year after media reports said that he had harassed multiple former clients and colleagues.

The probe, which is being led by the Tel Aviv Police District’s investigative wing, was opened after Channel 13 news released evidence of Avital sending models threatening messages, including police complaints ready to be submitted, if they were to accuse him of sexual abuse.

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

According to documents released by the network, in 2009 Avital paid NIS 120,000 ($35,000) to model Israela Avtau after he sexually assaulted her in his office. The incident was apparently kept under wraps, and Avital continued his career as an agent.

Sexual messages allegedly sent by Avital to a number of women, including minors, were also shown by the network.

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

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

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