Modeling agent accused of sexual assault to be freed to house arrest

Shai Avital will wear electronic bracelet; prosecutors ask for delay in release while they appeal decision

Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital at the Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv, January 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital at the Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv, January 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday released to house arrest a modeling agent who is charged with the sexual assault of two women, and is facing accusations of similar offenses from dozens of others.

However, prosecutors asked that Shai Avital’s release be delayed while they file an appeal against the decision.

If eventually released to house arrest, Avital will be required to wear an electronic tagging bracelet.

Avital, 45, was extradited earlier this month from the Netherlands, after spending over a year on the run while Israeli police sought to question him over dozens of complaints of sexual assault.

Last week, he was indicted for an indecent act, indecent act by force, and indecent act while taking advantage of a woman in a state of unconsciousness or another state that prevents her from giving free consent.

One of the alleged victims claims he tried to force himself on her in the backroom of a club where she was working, while another, who was a teenager at the time of the alleged assault, claims he gave her a pill that left her in a dazed state and then carried out several indecent acts against her.

Prosecutors had asked that Avital be held in custody until the end of proceedings, telling the court that the number of accusations filed by women against him shows “the respondent’s harmful pattern of action and the exploitation of his position” and also accusing Avital of having “an uncontrollable sex drive.”

Though another 24 women have filed accusations against Avital — including two more since he arrived back in the country — prosecutors have only filed charges over the two cases fully investigated so far. Police are continuing to probe the other accusations.

Avital, who denies any wrongdoing, left Israel in 2021, shortly before media reports about a slew of accusations began to surface against him.

He was finally arrested five months ago in Amsterdam. In November, the Netherlands agreed to an Israeli request that he be extradited. Avital arrived back in the country under police escort on January 3, although he was not handcuffed on the flight.

Investigative reports about Avital’s conduct toward women have been published by Israeli journalists as long ago as 2008, but an official criminal investigation began only in July 2021, after Channel 13 news released evidence of Avital sending models threatening messages.

Messages of a sexual nature allegedly sent by Avital to several women, including minors, were also shown by the network.

Several women also claimed Avital exposed himself to them, including at least one case that resulted in the woman and Avital having sex afterward, an activity that continued regularly after Avital promised the apparent victim that she would be featured on a popular reality show.

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

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

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