Airport Workers Suspected of Smuggling Thousands of Georgian Citizens Into Israel

Members of alleged ring behind what police have dubbed 'Ben-Gurion underground' recruited employees with passes for closed off areas to bypass passport control

FILE Photo: Immigration and Customs at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, February 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Israeli police arrested Monday six people and detained eight others who are suspected of illegally smuggling thousands of Georgian citizens into Israel through Ben-Gurion Airport.

Many of those arrested or detained work at the airport and are suspected, since 2017, of helping citizens of the former Soviet countries enter Israel by evading security arrangements at the airport, bypassing passport control and immigration.

The smuggling ring allegedly recruited employees of companies supplying services to the airport and a taxi driver, who all held entry permits for closed off, high security areas. Those arrested are suspected of violating the Entry to Israel Law as well as bribery, fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Investigators found that the ring was run by Georgian citizens working in both in Georgian capital Tbilisi and the central Israeli city of Rishon Letzion – along with Israelis. “All the members of the ring had a specific role in helping the smuggling in return for money, while they acted to hide their actions from the law enforcement authorities,” the police said.

Every Georgian who entered Israel illegally paid thousands of dollars to the smugglers, and sometimes even $10,000, the police suspect, calling the ring a “the Ben-Gurion underground.” Despite the security risk involved, the investigators suspect Georgians were smuggled in to work illegally in Israel and not for the purpose of terrorism.

A number of people have been caught being smuggled through the airport in recent years, but it was only six months ago when the case was handed over to the police’s national investigations unit, Lahav 433, and the extent of the ring became clear, the police added.

After the hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on Monday, nine suspects had their detention extended for investigation purposes.