(photo credit: REUTERS)
Crime kingpins Yitzhak and Meir Abergil and 18 associates were arraigned by the Tel Aviv District Court on Wednesday for a range of murders and failed attempts on the life of rival gangster Ze’ev Rosenstein, including one in Tel Aviv in December 2003 that left three bystanders dead and dozens injured.
Other top criminals indicted included Avi Ruhan and Moti Hassin – both mob bosses in their own right and close associates of the Abergils.
The investigation, known as Case 512, covered a global drug trafficking, money laundering and tax evasion network run by the Abergil family when they were on top of the Israeli underworld, mainly from 2002-2006.
The case has captured headlines for months, largely because of the more than a half a dozen mob bosses included among the more than 40 suspects.
At the hearing, each of the defendants and their lawyers, one after the next, identically asked the court for more time to review the more than 1,000 recordings and 1,000 legal binders of documents in the case before formally responding to the charges against them. The court granted all of the defendants until September 16.
A few of the defendants had not decided whether to hire private lawyers, as the Abergils had, or to seek representation from the Public Defender’s Office. The court gave defendants who had not selected a lawyer 21 days to make the decision and scheduled the trial to start on January 10, 2016.
The case includes seven state’s witnesses mentioned in the indictments, among them well-known and feared mafia enforcers, drug traffickers and associates of the Abergil family.
Yitzhak Abergil has been in prison for a range of criminal offenses linked to his time as one of the country’s leading crime bosses. He also served some jail time in the US prior to his extradition to Israel in January 2014. His conviction in the US and extradition were the result of one of the most complex joint Israel-US criminal investigations ever carried out, in light of his stature in the organized crime world.
The indictment focuses on the criminal syndicate’s operations from 2002 to 2006, when it imported and exported Ecstasy, cocaine, hashish and other drugs around the globe from North America to New Zealand, Japan, Europe and South America. The drug trafficking reached a value of some NIS 228 million during that period, the indictment states.
Yitzhak Abergil was at the top of the totem pole and managed all the different arms of the organization – the primary groups being in Israel, Europe and Japan.
The indictment details how in May and June 2003, Abergil plotted unsuccessfully with Yaniv Ben-Simon, his righthand man, and D.D., a former top operative turned state’s witness whose name is under gag order, to murder Rosenstein in Tel Aviv.
In November 2003, Abergil and several others made another attempt on Rosenstein’s life at a currency exchange establishment on Yehuda Halevi Street in Tel Aviv, where he did business, by placing a bomb on the awning of the storefront.
On December 11, 2003, the group activated the bomb when Rosenstein was nearby, killing bystanders Rahamim Tzruya, Moshe Mizrahi and Naftali Magad, and wounding Rosenstein and 50 others, including bodyguards and bystanders.
The case is broken down into 13 separate indictments, some for drug charges and others for murders. One, named “The Big Score,” gives a window into how the international operations of the Abergil family and their associates made millions in drug trafficking and covered their tracks through legitimate businesses. The case names four defendants, including the Abergil brothers, Ruhan and Canadian-Israeli businessman Sami Biton.
The case began in 1998, when two Abergil associates purchased 800 kg. of cocaine in Peru and stashed it inside the wheels of a large industrial machine. Eventually, sometime between 2001 and 2002, a plot was worked out to ship the machine to Canada, where Biton stashed it in a warehouse belonging to his company, Sanielle Finance.
The indictments also cover the 2003 murder of an Abergil associate named David Biton, who allegedly was killed because he mouthed off about some of the crime family’s associates.Ben Hartman contributed to this story.