Two Israeli Crime Bosses to Be Charged With Murdering State’s Witness

Yaniv Zaguri, Michael Mor expected to be indicted for murder of Tal Korkus, whose wife was also killed

Israeli crime boss Yaniv Zaguri in a Be'er Sheva courtroom, December 17, 2017.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Prosecutors are set to file an indictment Monday against Yaniv Zaguri and Michael Mor, two reputed leaders of an Israeli crime organization, for the murder of a state’s witness. Zaguri is expected to be charged with the murder of state witness Tal Korkus, who testified against him in 2010. Mor will be accused with providing Zaguri the explosive device that had been used for the murder, and for knowing Zaguri’s intention to carry out the murder without reporting it.

The prosecution is also expected to charge five additional people in the case.

Korkus was murdered in June in a car explosion. According to evidence, some of the suspects invited him to gamble, then placed the explosive device in Korkus’ vehicle, causing the blast that killed him.

In March 2016, Deborah Hirsch, Korkus’ ex-wife, was also murdered. Police have thus failed in cracking that case.

Korkus was Zaguri’s right-hand man for many years, but turned state’s witness in a trial against Zaguri, who was accused of planting a grenade at the entrance to the home of an intelligence officer as well as other felonies. Zaguri was convicted and sent to prison for seven years. Due to his agreement to testify against Zaguri, Korkus and his then-wife Hirsch joined a state witness protection program and were sent to live abroad for several years, but then left the program and returned to Israel.

Months before he was murdered, Korkus told the court that he feared for his life. Police said they thought the best protection they could supply him with was in the south.

The prosecution on Monday will charge Zaguri and Eric Ital for a different murder, that of Elisha Sabach, who testified against Ital’s brother that the latter shot to death two teenage boys at a kiosk in Be’er Sheva. Zaguri will be charged with ordering Sabach’s murder as revenge for his testimony.

After the murder of Korkus’ ex-wife Hirsch, Zaguri moved to the city of Guangzhou in China, from where he gave the order to kill Korkus and Sabach.

Israel does not have an extradition agreement with China, but nonetheless the country succeeded in getting Chinese authorities to deport Zaguri back to Israel three weeks ago. According to a source familiar with the case, China arrested and released Zaguri after it was learned that he did not declare his criminal record in a visa form he filled out upon moving there.

Prosecutors will charge Ital on Monday for the murder of Korkus, and known criminals Shimon Sharvit and Eliyosha Ben Shalom for murder or manslaughter. In addition, the prosecution will also charge Yaniv Haziza, who stayed with Zaguri abroad, for threatening a police representative of Thailand. An indictment will also be filed against the reputed criminal Lior Sa’at, who also stayed with Zaguri overseas, for conspiring to commit a crime. Yet another indictment will be filed against Deborah Hirsch’s brother-in-law Moti Elmakayes for failing to prevent a crime. He will be charged with failing to report to police that he was asked to take part in Korkus’ murder, a request he turned down.

The police’s special investigating unit in the Negev recruited three state’s witnesses against the defendants. One is a criminal who participated in the murders of Korkus and Sabach, and two more who helped Zaguri plan the murder of Korkus.

A source familiar with the investigation told Haaretz that there is testimony that some of the accused planned to kidnap the corpse of a criminal to use it to negotiate the release of a criminal currently serving time for murder. However, the indictment will probably not include this suspected crime.

Attorney Ori Ben-Natan, who represents Zaguri, said: “This is an affair in which a state’s witness was recruited. According to my understanding it was a state’s witness who was actively complicit in the murders and it is unclear how the state would sign an agreement with someone who was part of a plan to commit murder. My client did not cooperate with police investigators due to his past experience of state’s witnesses in a trial against him not telling the truth in court. On the contrary, he was confronted with the state’s witness and denied the suspicions against him.”

Attorneys Yali Shperling and Doron Noy, who represent Mor, Sharvit and Ben Shalom, said: “It is unfortunate that the prosecution chose to fall prey to the testimony of a state’s witness with blood on his hands who wanted to save his own skin from indictment in two murder cases. The state’s witness provided a host of lies that have no connection to reality. We have no doubt that during the trial, the true picture will emerge.”

Attorney Moshe Yochai, representing Ital, said: “My client is not connected to the murders of Korkus and Elisha Sabach. The police’s attempts to tie him to the murder cases according to the testimony of a state’s witness will end with nothing. I also suggest that the police investigate the actions and deeds of the witness, both in the past and in the future. The picture that will reveal itself to them will be discouraging, to put it mildly.”

Police arrested the two culprits over recent months, and Zaguri was arrested by the Chinese about two months ago. Last month, the Be’er Sheva District Court cleared for release the fact that two heads of a crime organization were arrested in suspicion of committing the murders, but only now are their identities being revealed.