prostitution ring - Nir Kafri - 16012012
The suspects in court in Tel Aviv last week. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Four Israelis were convicted last week of smuggling into the country hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union and forcing them to work as prostitutes.

Rami Saban, Shmuel (Timor ) Malka and the brothers David and Kobi Moreidi operated an international sex-trafficking ring between 1999 and 2007 that netted them almost NIS 5 million, the Tel Aviv District Court found.

The court found that the defendants used threats and violence to keep the women working as prostitutes, primarily in a network of escort parlors in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan that the defendants ran.

The victims were mostly young women whose financial and social situation made them easy prey for people with money "who have no qualms about exploiting them in order to make profits, while denying their freedom, dignity and status," Judge Chaled Kabub wrote in his ruling.

Avi Yania, a partner of the four sex traffickers, was recently tried in Russia and sentenced to 18 years in prison. The Israelis have yet to be sentenced.

One of the women was smuggled from Moldova to Israel, via Egypt, in 2000, according to court documents. The documents indicate that Yanai and Saban, the leader of the sex-trafficking ring, brought the woman into the country for the purpose of selling her to David Moreidi and two others for $5,000. The two others testified against their former partners and cannot be publicly identified.

Other women were sold for between $5,000 and $10,000 and hired out to pimps.

The Moldovan woman said that after arriving in Israel she underwent a physical examination and was locked in an apartment for the night. She was given a fake Israeli identity card and was forced by Moreidi and the two state's witnesses to work as a prostitute for 17 to 18 hours a day.

She provided sex services to between 15 and 20 customers a day, and was allowed to keep NIS 20 a day of the NIS 150 she charged per customer. When she wasn't working, she was locked in an apartment.

She was told she would not be freed for a year.

This is one of the most "complex stories of trafficking in women that has been discussed in the court in recent years, if not the largest of them, which sent out its tentacles beyond the State of Israel," Kabub wrote in the 345-page ruling.

The prosecution presented transcripts of hundreds of wiretapped conversations and called dozens of witnesses, including the two former members of the sex-trafficking ring, to make its case.

Saban's lawyer, Israel Klein, said the gravity of the offense has nothing to do with whether his client is guilty.

"In legal terms, the judge was very involved in the question of the severity of the crime, while there is no connection between the innocence or guilt of the accused and the severity of the crime," he said.

Kobi Moreidi's lawyer, Ofer Moscovich, said he was focusing on the arguments for sentencing.

In 2008 Saban and his partners moved their activity to Cyprus, until their arrest in 2009, the court found. Saban, who is 37 and from Moshav Megadim in the north, was described by the court as a talented, charismatic and domineering manipulator.

Saban took in nearly NIS 500,000 from the sex-trafficking ring, according to the prosecution. It said David Moreidi took in NIS 2.1 million, Kobi Moreidi took in NIS 200,000 and one of the state's witnesses, who served as the accountant, got NIS 2.1 million.

Customers paid members of the prostitution ring between NIS 100 and NIS 400 for sex services, but the women forced into prostitutions were typically got between NIS 20 and NIS 70 per day. "The large trafficking story requires in-depth attention and investigation, both normatively and factually," wrote Kabub. "With the development of technology, the creation of the global village and the blurring of borders between countries, the mechanism of trafficking in women has gradually developed and become more sophisticated, and is often supported by elements from crime organizations, which are involved in it."

The court acquitted Shlomo Dukarker, a travel agent who sold the defendants airline tickets to Cyprus. Dukarker was represented by attorney Benny Nahari.

Police began investigating the sex-trafficking ring in 2007, after one of its leaders was arrested. He agreed to incriminate his partners by recording dozens of conversations with them and to testify against them, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The prostitution ring's accountant later joined him as a state's witness.