Senior El Al official among 9 suspects charged in major cocaine-smuggling ring

Group accused of slipping 150 kilograms of drug into the country, dodging Ben Gurion Airport checks

Illustrative: Security seen at the departure hall of Ben Gurion International Airport on July 23, 2013. Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Security seen at the departure hall of Ben Gurion International Airport on July 23, 2013. Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Charges were filed Monday against nine suspects accused of running an international drug ring, in which security personnel working for the national El Al airline allegedly used their clearance to smuggle 150 kilograms of cocaine into the country through Ben Gurion International Airport.

The suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and bring dangerous drugs into the country. Two of the suspects were also charged with illegally bringing a weapon into the country and another was charged with violating a court order, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

The main suspect was identified as Rami Yogev, 54, a high-ranking El Al security liaison, who is also in charge of the Israeli carrier’s security abroad. His position gave him access to restricted areas of Ben Gurion airport and the ability to bypass standard security checkpoints, prosecutors said.

One of the nine suspects turned state’s witness in the case. Additional details — including the identities of some of those involved — are restricted from publication under a court-imposed gag order.

According to the indictments, the suspects brought a total of 150 kilograms of cocaine from South Africa into the country on 10 occasions over the past several months.

“In the framework of the conspiracy, the defendants acted as a planned and united operational unit, each with a specific role to ensure that their drug import program would be carried out,” the indictment read.

The drugs were allegedly put in hand luggage and smuggled past security in Johannesburg before being carried by a courier on to flights to Israel. At Ben Gurion, the hand luggage was allegedly handed off to Yogev as soon as the plane doors were opened and he then brought the bag past security and into Israel.

Prosecutors wrote of Yogev that he “blatantly and grossly violated the trust given to him as part of his job.”

Prosecutors asked that suspects be held until the end of proceedings.

Yogev and three others were arrested in November after drugs were discovered in the hand luggage of one of the suspects, who had just arrived on a flight from Johannesburg.

Details of the case were revealed after a Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court judge rejected, during a remand hearing, a police request for a gag order.

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