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Top Israeli modeling agent accused of sexual abuse arrested in Amsterdam

Police say Shai Avital will be extradited to Israel more than a year after a warrant was issued for his arrest for at least 26 cases of sexual harassment.

Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital (right) poses with models, during an event on a rooftop in Tel Aviv, on September 17, 2017. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90/ File)
Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital (right) poses with models, during an event on a rooftop in Tel Aviv, on September 17, 2017. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90/ File)

Leading Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital has been arrested in Amsterdam ahead of his extradition to Israel to face charges in 26 cases of sexual harassment, police said Friday.

The arrest in the Netherlands comes more than a year after police issued an arrest warrant for Avital, who represented some of the country’s top models.

He was then living in Hungary and was told by Israeli authorities to return to Israel immediately where he would be taken into custody and questioned over the allegations. However, despite his lawyers previously saying that he would come to Israel if summoned, he remained overseas.

Police said Sunday that the arrest was the culmination of a joint operation between the Israeli and Dutch police.

Avital will remain in custody at least until a hearing on Monday morning, after his legal representation said that the court session scheduled on Friday afternoon had been postponed due to the unavailability of an interpreter.

Police launched the criminal investigation into Avital in July last year after media reports said that he had harassed multiple former clients and colleagues.

Twenty-six separate claims have now been made against him.

The probe, which is being led by the Tel Aviv Police District’s investigative wing, was opened after Channel 13 news released evidence of Avital sending models threatening messages, including police complaints ready to be submitted, if they were to accuse him of sexual abuse.

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

According to documents released by the network, in 2009 Avital paid NIS 120,000 ($35,000) to model Israela Avtau after he sexually assaulted her in his office. The incident was apparently kept under wraps, and Avital continued his career as an agent.

Sexual messages allegedly sent by Avital to a number of women, including minors, were also shown by the network.

A number of women also claimed Avital exposed himself in front of them, including at least one case that resulted in them having sex afterward, which continued on a regular basis, after Avital promised the apparent victim would be featured on a popular reality show.

Other women accused him of forcibly groping, kissing, and licking their faces. The allegations date back over the past two decades.

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