Police arrested eight people Sunday on suspicion of operating a network for trafficking women in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
The suspects include a former Israeli athletics champion, who in the past was accused of pimping – but charges against her were dropped at the time for lack of evidence. According to the suspicion, those involved recruited women from abroad to work in prostitution under the guise of massage services.
They are suspected of crimes including causing someone to leave his country for the purpose of prostitution, pimping and money laundering totaling millions of shekels. On Monday the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court extended the women’s detention by four days.
The police located five victims who worked in apartments operated by the network in Givatayim, Ramat Gan, Petah Tikva and Raanana. The women, four of whom are not Israeli citizens, were brought to a shelter accompanied by social service workers.
According to the suspicion, the network is headed by a 50-year-old athlete from Ramat Gan who is a former Israeli champion and represented the state in three world championships. She is suspected of leading the recruitment of the women along with her former partner, managing the workers in the prostitution ring and instructing the women.
In 2017 the suspect was charged with owning a venue for prostitution, and pimping for acts of prostitution. She was accused of managing an apartment in Tel Aviv that was used for prostitution, and for taking half of the money paid by each client for herself. The indictment was canceled in January, and the State Prosecutor’s Office explained that “additional data were discovered that created a genuine evidentiary problem in proving the indictment.”
One of those involved in the investigation was policeman Nikita Kurilov, who was sentenced this year to 10 months in prison after being convicted for exploiting his job in order to have sexual relations with women who were recognized as victims of human trafficking.
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Attorney Orit Hayoun, who is representing the suspect, said she denies the suspicions. “We raised serious complaints and did not receive a reply as to how many years and apartments are at issue,” she said. “We think that the fog should be lifted and then we’ll know what we’re dealing with. Such claims were made in the past, and were rejected and erased.”
Another detainee is an acquaintance of the woman and her former partner, who is suspected of laundering the money for them via his vegetable store. The other detainees are drivers and secretaries.
According to police, the suspects recruited the women by publishing ads on Russian-language websites in Israel and abroad. The ads said: “Wanted: masseuses, high salary.” Afterwards, according to the investigation, they advertised the prostitution services on sex and massage websites in the guise of massage parlors.
Ayelet Dayan, co-director of the Task Force Against Human Trafficking and Prostitution, said in response to the arrest: “The state must recognize all the women who were trafficked and exploited for prostitution as victims of human trafficking, and to ensure that they receive all the rights to which they are entitled.” She called on police and prosecutors to indict the operators of the prostitution ring for the crime of trafficking in human beings.