A criminal described by South African media as Israel’s “most wanted gang leader” was arrested near Johannesburg on Thursday.
The suspect was later identified as notorious fugitive Yaniv Ben Simon, 46, a close associate of jailed crime boss Yitzhak Abergil.
Simon, who is known as the world’s most wanted Israeli, was allegedly involved in attempted hits on rivals of the Abergil syndicate in two separate incidents in 2003 and 2004.
While not identifying Ben Simon by name, the Israel Police said the suspect had been on the run since 2015 due to his involvement in the so-called Case 512, a comprehensive probe led by Israel Police’s anti-fraud Lahav 433 unit as part of an ongoing crackdown on organized crime in Israel.
He was arrested along with seven other suspects in a private home in the residential suburb of Bryanston near Johannesburg in an early-morning operation.
Upon his arrest, police found and confiscated five assault rifles, seven handguns, around $40,000 (NIS 137,000) and three motorcycles. Police suspect the vehicles were stolen.
The arrest operation was led by a joint team of Interpol investigators and South African police, assisted by intelligence provided by Israeli police.
“He has been on Interpol’s Red Notice since 2015 and is wanted in Israel for conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder,” said South African police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe.
Police also seized suspected stolen motorcycles pic.twitter.com/9SpSPoTKxP
— Phathu Luvhengo (@LuvhengoPhathu) November 17, 2022
The Abergil crime syndicate has long been considered a central player in Israel’s criminal underworld.
In June, Abergil himself was sentenced to three life sentences and an additional 30 years behind bars by an Israeli court for the murder of three uninvolved bystanders during an attempted hit in 2003, due to his role as head of an organized crime group that carried out the bombing.
While Abergil was not accused of carrying out the attack himself, judges charged that he “initiated and planned the incident that would harm civilians,” and described the attack as “a cruel, unbridled plan, no different from a terror attack.”
Last month, an Israeli citizen with reported ties to organized crime was gunned down in Cape Town. Initial reports said he had traveled to South Africa to try and distance himself from the gangland fighting in Israel.
According to some experts, South Africa has become a popular destination for international criminals in recent years due to ineffective intelligence gathering and enforcement.
“We are seeing South Africa becoming one of the destinations of internationally wanted fugitives. This is completely unacceptable. The state authorities have sent a clear message that South Africa must not be considered a haven for international organized crime syndicates,” organized crime investigator Chad Thomas was cited by local media as saying.