Top kingpin among suspects in major organized crime bust

Yitzhak Abergil suspected in attempted hit on underworld rival Zeev Rosenstein that killed three bystanders in Tel Aviv in 2003

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Crime boss Yitzhak Abergil, seen in court on May 20, 2014. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Crime boss Yitzhak Abergil, seen in court on May 20, 2014. (photo credit: FLASH90)

Israeli kingpin Yitzhak Abergil was among dozens of suspects scooped up by police in what has been described as a major underworld bust, according to new details from the case publication on Tuesday.

Abergil, who is already in prison, is suspected of involvement in a failed attempt to target another top mobster, Zeev Rosenstein, over a decade ago in an attack that killed three bystanders.

Some 44 suspects were set to attend remand hearings at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court Tuesday, and heavy police presence was reported around the building.

Among the allegations leveled at the detainees, who were said to include other leading crime bosses and their associates, are cases of murder, attempted murder, drugs, money laundering, and other offenses.

Abergil and his brother Meir were arrested in August 2008 in Israel following an American extradition request, after they were named in an indictment that charged them with using a San Fernando Valley gang to distribute one million MDMA pills, colloquially known as Ecstasy, and paying a gang member to kill a man for stealing a drug shipment. Abergil was handed over to US officials in January 2011.

In May 2012 Abergil pleaded guilty to the charges as part of a plea agreement, and was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison, of which he has already served over six (including time spent in prison prior to sentencing). His brother Meir was sentenced to 42 months and has since been released. Abergil returned to Israel in January 2014 to serve the remainder of his sentence in an Israeli prison.

A gag order on the operation, dubbed “Case 512,” was partially lifted by the court on Tuesday, allowing more information to emerge on what police chief Yohanan Danino has termed “one of the most significant probes ever conducted against crime organizations in recent memory.”

Two state witnesses are said to have been involved in the investigation, which gained impetus in 2008, when police cracked the case of the failed 2003 assassination attempt on Rosenstein, leading to breakthroughs in six other murder cases and 15 attempted murders.

Underworld kingpin Zeev Rosenstein is seen at court in Ramleh, south of Tel Aviv, on January 12, 2010 (Yossi Zeliger / FLASH90)
Underworld kingpin Zeev Rosenstein is seen at court in Ramle, south of Tel Aviv, on January 12, 2010 (Yossi Zeliger / FLASH90)

Rosenstein, Abergil’s bitter rival at the time, was targeted in a bomb attack on a Tel Aviv street. Although Rosenstein survived the hit attempt, three innocent bystanders were killed and 18 injured in the blast, which occurred at the height of the Second Intifada, when Israelis were targeted by repeated Palestinian suicide bombings.

Rosenstein, like Abergil, later faced drugs trafficking charges in the US. He was extradited by Israel and in 2007 was sentenced to 12 years in prison, which he has been serving out in Israel.

Other crimes linked to Abergil include an earlier attempt on Rosenstein, the disappearance of Israeli mob figure Micah Ben-Harush in South Africa, and the operation of a massive international drug-trafficking ring, the Hebrew-language Walla news site reported.

In total, Case 512 encompasses some 40 individual investigations into crimes committed over the past 12 years by some 50 suspects.

On Sunday, over 50 suspects across Israel were apprehended in their homes and brought in for interrogation, with officers seizing vehicles, properties and bank accounts.

The raid was the culmination of a multi-year investigation conducted by Israel Police’s anti-fraud Lahav 433 unit together with the Tel Aviv district police.

Attorney Sharon Nahari, who is representing some of the suspects, played down the significance of the arrests, telling Army Radio it wasn’t the first time the police have made grandiose statements about arrests and organized crime.

“I think we need to wait and see exactly what the evidence is and how strong it is, and then draw conclusions,” he said.

Israeli officials have vowed over recent years to step up operations against organized crime, amid a string of car bombings linked to the syndicates which have rocked Israeli cities.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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