Israeli Chabad Emissary Nabbed in Madrid With 4Kg of Cocaine

Friends of the arrested man say he was fooled into smuggling the cocaine as he was returning to Israel after a fund-raising trip to Costa Rica.

A Chabad emissary from Safed was arrested in the Madrid airport late last week after being found in possession of four kilograms of cocaine.

Though the drugs were stashed in one of his suitcases, his friends told Haaretz he was fooled into smuggling the cocaine.

Madrid airport Dec. 5, 2010 (AP)
AP Photo / Paul White

Eliyahu Hecht, 57, a father of six who works for the global charity organization Kollel Chabad, was returning to Israel from Costa Rica, where he was fund-raising for a soup kitchen operated by Kollel Chabad in Safed. He was arrested during a stopover in Madrid, and friends say he only managed to contact his family on Monday.

"He said he was asked by his host in Costa Rica to take a suitcase and deliver it to a woman in Spain," one of the friends, Uri, told Haaretz. "Eliyahu refused, and then the host started telling him, 'how dare he suspect him and how dare he refuse after staying under his roof and eating from his table.' So Eliyahu agreed to the request, but not before checking the suitcase for anything suspicious. It turns out the man still managed to hide the drugs inside."

The organization contacted the Israeli Embassy in Madrid at Hecht's arrest, and Kollel Chabad activists in Safed have begun fund-raising for Hecht's legal defense and to support his family. They said they asked everyone to contribute as much as they can.

Rabbi Ze'ev Crombi, who runs the soup kitchen, told Haaretz that Hecht was detained "in very difficult conditions - without kosher food and without tefillin [phylacteries]. He says detention there is worse than hell."

"Eliyahu is a good, honest man who did his job faithfully, and it's impossible for him to have done what they say he did," Crombi added. "The heart breaks to think of him in that horrific place." Spanish police and the Israeli embassy confirmed the arrest but declined to provide details on the case.