Fourteen Israelis were arrested recently in Holland, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand and Austria on suspicion of being members of an international drug smuggling ring. Assi Ben-Mosh, who is suspected of heading the ring, was arrested a week ago in Holland.
The Israelis are alleged to have smuggled Ecstasy tablets from Holland to various countries, primarily in the Far East. They are also suspected of smuggling cocaine from South America - Brazil and Peru in particular - to Europe.
Intelligence on the drug ring was gathered and coordinated by the Drug Squad at the Israel Police's National Headquarters. The investigations themselves were conducted by the police forces of Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Thailand, India and Brazil. Because the drugs weren't destined for Israel, the suspects will not face extradition, but will be tried in the countries in which they were arrested.
Ben-Mosh is well-known to all backpackers who have tried in recent years to open a stall selling pictures of jewelry on the streets of Tokyo. He and his cronies have muscled in, forcing the backpackers to work for them. Any Israeli who tried to make it on his own suffered constant harassment and violence.
In recent years, the Israel Police has accumulated intelligence indicating that Ben-Mosh has not sufficed with the stall business, and has branched out into a worldwide drug business.
The 30-year-old Ben-Mosh, originally from Kiryat Ata, is thought to have spent recent years traveling the world, with his base as Japan. But after running into trouble with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, he moved to Spain. From there, police suspect, he ordered Ecstasy tablets from suppliers in Holland, and sent the drugs to the Far East. At the same time, according to police suspicions, he used Israelis in South America to export cocaine, mostly to Europe.
The Spanish police, however, did not really cooperate with their Israeli colleagues and failed to show much interest in the affair. Nevertheless, during the probe, and through Interpol, the Dutch authorities were informed of the drug smuggling. When Ben-Mosh made a trip last week from Spain to Holland, he was arrested.
The Israel Police termed the international operation it coordinated "The Three Musketeers," referring to Ben-Mosh and his two brothers, who were also suspected for a while of involvement in the affair. Although the drugs were not bound for Israel, the National Headquarters decided to coordinate the investigation due to the fact that in recent years, the phenomenon of international drug rings run by Israelis has become more prevalent.
By means of representatives abroad, the Israel Police pressed the authorities in the various countries to keep track of the members of the ring, eventually receiving information that every once in a while, Ben-Mosh would assemble his associates in Thailand and plan the drug-smuggling routes. Most of the Israeli members of the ring used forged passports to travel around the world.
Earlier in the year, police in New Zealand arrested a German courier in possession of 60,000 Ecstasy tablets. Also arrested were three Israelis - Dan Dura, 22, from Kfar Sava; Yoav Orenstein, 18, from Herzliya; and Shai Kadosh, 28, from Alei Zahav. The drugs with which the Israelis were caught all came from Holland.
The information passed on from the New Zealand authorities to the Israel Police was conveyed to Holland, leading to the arrest of Assaf Islander, who was found with some 800 grams of Ecstasy powder. The Dutch police then stepped up its investigation and made more arrests, picking up Ziv Helmut, 29, from Ra'anana; Yaniv Kahalani, 30, from Rishon Letzion; and Dani Dahman, 28, from Tel Aviv. Another Israeli, Oren Fahima, 27, from Jaffa, was arrested in Austria in possession of 4.5 kilograms of Ecstasy powder.
Last month, the Dutch police arrested Ronen Attias, 31, from Holon, Ben-Mosh's good friend and partner. Attias was found with 26,000 Ecstasy tablets and a 9mm. pistol fitted with a silencer.
The Israeli investigators, led by Commander Irit Buton and Superintendent Yafa Mizrahi, then pressed the South Americans to arrest the members of the ring operating in their territory. Arrests were made in Peru and Brazil with the suspects - Aharon Hussi, Lee Hafetz, Ilan Elimelech and Shimon Biton - found in possession of dozens of kilograms of cocaine, some $35,000, hundreds of Ecstasy tablets and hashish.
The arrests in Brazil and the ensuing intelligence led to the arrest of Ben-Mosh last week.
Police sources say they have intelligence on additional members of the ring and more arrests are likely in the near future.