Russian-Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev’s diamond enterprise, the subject of a mass fraud probe, is suspected of smuggling hundreds of millions of shekels’ worth of gems into Israel inside condoms inserted into couriers’ bodies, in a tactic law enforcement officials have described as a page out of a crime organization’s book.
Leviev’s son and brother have been arrested in connection with the smuggling operation. Leviev himself is reportedly being sought by authorities for questioning over the case — which was first made public last week — but he is refusing to return to Israel from Russia.
Zevulun and Moshe Leviev were among six suspects held on suspicion of smuggling. The pair had run a diamond facility owned by Lev Leviev and the remaining four suspects held senior positions in his company. The remand of all six suspects has been repeated extended by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.
Details of the investigation at the Lahav 433 anti-corruption police unit and of the testimony of a state witness in the case were published Thursday by the Ynet news site, exposing the way the gems made their way from Russia into Israel.
Leviev’s enterprise would hire couriers who packed the diamonds into condoms and then inserted them into their bodies. Donning suits, they posed as businessmen and managed to pass Israel border control without raising suspicion.
The diamonds — worth some NIS 300 million ($81.4 million) — were then sold illegally in Israel, without paying taxes. They were also smuggled into other countries, according to the investigation.
“That tactic is very common for drug dealers, who use couriers to smuggle large quantities of drugs inside the couriers’ bodies,” a source with knowledge of the investigation was quoted by Ynet as saying.
“The mere thought of smuggling in this way is a testament to the criminal intentions of those officials. They were afraid that the diamonds would be discovered had they been smuggled in suitcases, and therefore worked with couriers who were willing to take the risk.”
The Russian diamond factory is suspected of operating in two separate production lines: a legal one, which included all the necessary reports to authorities and tax payments, and the illegal one. Police believe that design sought to eliminate suspicion by ostensibly being a law-abiding business, similar to crime organizations that typically also retain legal businesses.
Police and Tax Authority officials believe Leviev played a role in the sting, according to the Walla news website, which did not specify what he is suspected of. Police and prosecutors haven’t yet decided whether to ask Russian authorities to extradite Leviev or request permission to conduct the investigation on Russian soil.
More arrests in Israel and abroad are expected, according to authorities.
The case was cracked with the aid of one of the suspects who turned state witness after he was stopped six months ago at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport carrying a diamond worth a million shekels ($270,000), the Globes website reported.
In a statement, Leviev’s company LLD Diamonds previously said it had no information about the arrests.
“The company knows nothing of the events reported in the media,” the statement said. “Mr. Leviev and the companies he owns operate according to the appropriate norms, and in compliance with the law. We hope that the matter will quickly be clarified and that the suspicions will turn out to be baseless.”
Born in the then-Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, Leviev moved to Israel at age 15 but lived in London for much of the past decade before moving to Russia. He is a major supporter of many Jewish causes, including Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic sect that focuses on outreach to Jews around the world.
Stuart Winer and agencies contributed to this report.