abergil - Courtesy: FBI - January 31 2011
Hai Vaknin Photo by Courtesy: FBI
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Brothers Meir and Itzik Abergil face trial for money laundering and extortion in a California court, and the American authorities have reached a plea bargain with Hai Vaknin, whose factual description of loans and extortion may help convict the two. The money involved is believed to have been embezzled from the Israel Trade Bank.

Israeli sources say Vaknin may testify in court though this is not spelled out in the bargain he cut with the Americans two weeks ago. The deal has Vaknin confessing to money laundering and receiving a 57-month jail sentence, which he has already served. He was arrested in 2006 and will soon be released but kept under supervision for three years.

The appendix to the plea deal contains a factual description that Vaknin confirms of the extortion practiced by Itzik Abergil as arbitrator and in which Sasson Barashy, who was also extradited to the U.S., took part.

The deal with Vaknin was signed several weeks after the American authorities unexpectedly arrested Gabi Ben Harosh, who was the head of the "Jerusalem Gang" and was convicted of marginal crimes in a plea deal and was sentenced to community service and supervision. Now, he and his wife Sima are suspected of violating immigration laws, and it is believed the Americans want to apply pressure to Ben Harosh to incriminate his former partners, the Abergil brothers.

The plea bargain with Vaknin was made available to Haaretz. It contains a description of the saga of money laundering and extortion under threat in which Ben Harosh, Barashy - who was extradited to the U.S. along with the Abergil brothers - fugitive Yoram El-Al and Itzik Abergil were involved. The central part of the factual description in the appendix relates to the blackmailing of Florida businessmen Yosef Atia and Eliahu Hadad and a Los Angeles car dealer. The loan money comes from the embezzlement of NIS 250 million from the Israel Trade Bank, some of which was smuggled to the U.S. The loans to the American businessmen were intended to be a means of laundering the funds. Some of the money was returned after the borrowers were subjected to scare tactics and threats.

Vaknin testifies in the plea bargain to a meeting in 2003 at the Sheraton Hotel in Miami, in which a mediation headed by Itzik Abergil, who set Hadad's debt at $330,000, which included the debt of his partner, Atia, who had fled in panic.

Another extortion story described in the plea bargain relates to a loan given to the California car dealer, who received almost $1 million to purchase luxury cars in Europe and sell them in the U.S., and in the end allegedly fell victim to threats and scare tactics by the group. The factual statements in the plea bargain also includes a description of money laundering in which Vaknin was involved, and an attempt to launder money by means of transfers through bank accounts and ostensibly legal transactions.

The Abergils' money laundering is believed to have originated in Etti Alon's embezzlement at the Israel Trade Bank. Itzik Abergil, it is claimed, was also implicated in the murder of drug dealer Sami Atias, by initiating and authorizing its implementation. He is also believed to have been involved in dealing in Ecstasy.

Ben Harosh signed a plea bargain for minor offenses, connected to bringing in foreign currency without a permit, and he was sentenced to community service and judicial supervision for three years. Since then, Ben Harosh has declared that he is living a normal life of business and Torah study. He is now suspected in California of identity theft and additional immigration and property crimes. His wife, Sima, is also suspected of immigration crimes, after divorcing her husband and allegedly entering into a fictitious marriage to an American citizen to obtain citizenship.