Meet the Jarushis, the crime family linked to Likud MK David Bitan
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Meet the Jarushis, the crime family linked to Likud MK David Bitan

A member of the Ramle organization is at the center of an investigation into alleged bribes taken by the coalition whip

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

Husam Jarushi, a reported mobster linked to suspected wrongdoing by Likud MK David Bitan, in court on December 4, 2017 (screen capture: Hadashot)
Husam Jarushi, a reported mobster linked to suspected wrongdoing by Likud MK David Bitan, in court on December 4, 2017 (screen capture: Hadashot)

On Tuesday morning, police reportedly brought in for questioning two more members of the Jarushi crime family, both as yet unnamed. Already in custody was Husam Jarushi, who was scooped up on Sunday in connection with a graft probe into coalition chair MK David Bitan (Likud) and officials in the Rishon Lezion municipality, including the mayor.

Bitan is suspected of taking loans from members of the Jarushi crime family and, when he was unable to repay them, offering favors in exchange for forgiveness of the loans. Both Bitan and Husam Jarushi deny any wrongdoing.

The clan, which numbers about 2,500, is descended from Muslims who moved to what is now Israel about 140 years ago from Libya. They are said to have always had good relations with their Jewish neighbors, and during the First Aliyah, Jewish settlers in the Ramle-Lod area paid them to provide armed protection from hostile Arab villagers. While many members of the family are doctors, lawyers and other professionals, one group of Jarushis, which resides around Ramle, is involved in various aspects of organized crime, according to multiple reports in Hebrew media.

According to the reports, the family is considered by police to be one of the most powerful, and violent, of Israel’s crime families. They reportedly earn hundreds of millions of shekels a year from activities that include settling disputes among citizens and criminal groups, extorting protection money from business owners and building contractors, operating illegal gambling clubs, manufacturing counterfeit ten-shekel coins, selling cocaine, trafficking in weapons, and taking assassination contracts.

In addition, according to reports, some members of the family are involved in real estate and construction in and around the cities of Lod, Ramle, Rehovot and Rishon Lezion.

Likud party MK and coalition secretary David Bitan arrives at the Knesset, December 4, 2017. (Flash90)

The family has also been involved in extra-bank lending, according to the police, as well as money laundering. The extra-bank lending industry in Israel, also known as the “gray market,” is largely run by crime syndicates, and is said to bring in revenues of NIS 30 billion ($8.6 billion) per year, according to a Channel 2 news expose in August 2015. Tens of thousands of borrowers a year, mostly from the poorer rungs of Israeli society, turn to the gray market for quick and immediate loans only to realize later that the interest rates are so onerous (20 percent to 800 percent a year) that they cannot pay them back.

Sometimes these disputes are resolved in court, but very often, the borrower suffers a series of escalating threats from crime groups until they manage to pay, either by asking for money from family members or by agreeing to do favors for the crime family, like working in prostitution, or being a fall guy in court for the family’s crimes, an expert on organized crime in Israel, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Times of Israel.

Over the past several decades, various Knesset members have introduced bills to try to regulate the “gray market” loan industry and stop the terrorizing of tens of thousands of Israel’s poorer citizens, but no bill ever managed to pass through the Knesset. The existing laws against extortion and predatory interest are almost never enforced.

The Jarushi family was also allegedly involved in Israel’s forex and binary options industry, in cooperation with new immigrants to Israel from France. In June 2016, Israeli police arrested about 20 people, most of them new immigrants from France and the US, as well as Harry Amar, Eli Revivo and Ahmad and Sami Jarushi, on suspicion of operating a ring that made telephone calls to people abroad and defrauded them in various ways.

According to a September 2017 court document prepared by the Israel Police, the group “operated several forex and binary options websites and sold fake diamond investments. They would call people in foreign countries, mainly France, and persuade them to trade on the company’s websites. The money that the investors abroad deposited never returned to them, even if they seemed to earn money on the site.”

Police also found that the online platforms belonging to this group were rigged, and the money was transferred to offshore bank accounts. Afterwards, the money would return to Israel using various ruses and would be given back to the alleged fraudsters through money changing shops belonging to well-known crime figures, the police said.

According to police, two members of the Jarushi family, Ahmad Jarushi and Hamza Milad, provided an “umbrella of protection” to the co-conspirators and made sure that each of the operatives received their fair share of the earnings.

The Jarushi family has a longstanding rivalry with another Israeli-Arab crime family, the Karajas, with dozens of assassinations between the two clans, though in the last few years the two families have maintained a ceasefire. The Jarushi family also had good relations with the Abergil crime family, according to media reports, and the two syndicates engaged in many joint business enterprises.

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