Massive Smuggling Attempt Thwarted at Ashdod Port

Contraband worth an estimated 15 million shekels revealed in containers from China.

Ilan Assayag

Tax Authority and customs officials foiled a smuggling attempt unprecedented in scale at the Ashdod Port Wednesday. Officials seized two containers containing hundreds of thousands of packs of cigarettes, electric scooters, impotence drugs, cell phones and antique watches worth an estimated total of 15 million shekels ($4.3 million).

The importer reportedly declared that the containers contained garden furniture imported from China. One container came to officials’ attention after the Tax Authority’s risk-assessment computers flagged it as suspicious, and it was sent to be X-rayed. The results were inconsistent with garden furniture, so the containers were then sent to be inspected by staff.

Upon opening the containers, inspectors found garden furniture as declared, but behind them they found packs of Marlboro cigarettes hidden under burlap. Officials said there were 300,000 packs of cigarettes in total, which would command taxes of 6.5 million shekels.

The inspectors then moved on to the other container registered in the importer’s name. This container also ostensibly contained garden furniture, but inspectors found hidden 3,100 Samsung and Nokia cell phones; 97,000 pills for treating impotence that inspectors said could pose a danger to public health; 50 electric scooters with high-power engines that necessitated a permit to import; and thousands of watches, purses, wallets, belts and glasses from brands including Rolex, Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

The importer, a man from Jerusalem, was detained and his remand has been extended through Sunday.