Ex-minister Arrested on Suspicion He Is Involved in Ecstasy Smuggling Scheme

Former energy minister Gonen Segev has been remanded into police custody as a suspect in an alleged international Ecstasy drug smuggling scheme that Israeli and Dutch police say involves millions of shekels.

Former energy minister Gonen Segev has been remanded into police custody as a suspect in an alleged international Ecstasy drug smuggling scheme that Israeli and Dutch police say involves millions of shekels.

"It is nearly possible to say that these are not simply suspicions but apparently real evidence," said Tel Aviv Magistrate Court Judge David Rozen, who signed the remand order, after examining the police evidence yesterday. "If it wasn't true, we would be much happier, because, the bottom line, he is an ex-minister in Israel ... and he is suspected of smuggling drugs that are mostly used by youths."

According to the police, Segev, suspected with two others in the case, tried to smuggle at least NIS 1.25 million worth of Ecstasy into Israel.

For the police, the affair begins on April 9, when Segev flew KLM to Amsterdam with a round-trip ticket for the same day. On his way to the plane back to Israel, the metal detectors at Schipol Airport went off. When airport guards asked to check the pouch he was wearing under his clothing, he showed them a diplomatic passport that expired in 2000 but had allegedly been retouched so the last 0 looked like a 6. Police said the alleged forgery is very amateurish and was easily spotted by the guards. After Segev's passport was photographed, he was allowed to return to Israel. Since he had by then missed his flight, he returned the next day on an El Al flight.

But two days later, Segev was back on a flight to Amsterdam with a round-trip ticket for the same day. On his way to the plane in Amsterdam, the x-ray machines spotted signs of "organic substances" in his luggage. A search found nothing except two packets of M&M candies. Immediately after the search, he went to duty free, bought more M&Ms and then rented a locker where he put the M&Ms he had been carrying, replacing them with the M&Ms he had bought before taking the flight to Amsterdam. A few hours later, when he landed back in Israel, and before he managed to leave the airport, he was approached by a policeman who asked to search his bags.

The Dutch police, meanwhile, sent Israel's police station at the airport an urgent message with a list of suspicions against Segev, including the fact they had recovered the M&M packages - allegedly containing 25,000 tablets of Ecstasy from the locker Segev rented. The police say the locker had been charged to Segev's personal credit card.

All the police found in the airport were the innocent packets of M&Ms, so they sent him home.

But, say police, Segev somehow managed to see the fax sent to the Israel police, so he knew there were suspicions against him.

"And ever since," said Segev's lawyer Lior Epstein yesterday, "Segev has been pleading with the police to take his version of the events, but they don't want to listen to him."

According to Epstein, Segev received the package from his cousin Moshe Verner, who in turn received the package from Segev's business partner in Holland, attorney Ariel Friedman, and Segev thought it was a package of candies. Verner and Friedman were also remanded yesterday.

On Wednesday night, police from the Tel Aviv flying squad called Segev, asking him to come in for questioning. Upon arrival at the Dizengoff St. station, he was arrested. Friedman was arrested earlier in the evening at the airport coming into the country.

All three suspects are cooperating with the police, but there may be some discrepancies in their versions. "This does not appear to be a one-tome incident," the judge wrote yesterday. "The investigators believe the suspects might be partners - though not senior members - of a smuggling ring to bring hard drugs into Israel."

The case has involved close cooperation with Dutch police - indeed, the arrests were only made after a police officer was sent to Holland to collect all the information the Amsterdam police had on the case.

A lawyer for Friedman, who allegedly had possession of drugs, claimed Segev and his cousin Verner were trying to "frame him."

Police, meanwhile, are examining Segev's relationships with some known underworld figures, including Ze'ev Rosenstein, considered the number one target for police intelligence. Apparently the two have some sort of business ties, say police sources, who say that Verner had shares in a Prague casino apparently owned by Israeli underworld figures, though not Rosenstein.