A Brazilian tourist who came to Israel on an organized Christian pilgrimage last week brought a little “extra” in her luggage – 24 kg of cocaine packed in bricks inside two suitcases, with an Israeli street value in the millions of shekels.
The case went public Sunday when the tourist – 38-yearold Nascimento Alencar – was brought for her second remand extension at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.
Central District Police said the woman was first spotted and arrested Wednesday night by detectives at Ben-Gurion Airport who then searched her phone and found WhatsApp messages between her and a 72-year-old Israeli man they say was meant to pick up the shipment.
Police said the woman then agreed to cooperate with detectives, who had her arrange a meeting with her contact, Shmuel Burnstein of Tel Aviv. The next night, when the woman was with her tour group at a hotel by the Sea of Galilee in Tiberias, she texted Burnstein who came to the hotel to meet with her and he was arrested by detectives from the Central District.
On Friday, his remand was extended until Tuesday.
Police are still working to determine whether there are other accomplices who can be brought in to face charges.
During the first hearing at the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Friday, Burnstein’s attorney Yossi Tzitiati said his client told him he has a son in Bolivia who told him to go pick something up from a woman in Tiberias. He said his client had no idea what was in the suitcase, nor did his son tell him anything about who he was meeting.
Police disputed that version of events in court, with a detective saying that text messages sent between Burstein and his son “showed that he was talking to his son and was aware of what he was doing.”
The officer also said the son had served time in prison and appeared to be trying to put the blame on his father.
Police said Burnstein had been in touch by text with his son for three days, and that his son told him exactly what to do and the danger involved.
Police said that when Burnstein showed up to meet Alencar, he came without a car and was carrying three cellphones and a spare SIM card. He also kissed Alencar on both cheeks upon greeting her at a café where they sat for coffee before police moved in for the arrest.
The elder Burnstein has no criminal record. According to his attorney, he has lived outside of Israel for many years and is only in the country now to take care of his ex-wife who is suffering from an illness.
Burnstein told the court he makes far more money working for a series of European companies and would not take such a risk.
Sold in Israel for NIS 500 or more per gram, cocaine is highly profitable for smugglers.
While large shipments have been smuggled into the past on container ships and by other means, 24 kgs is quite a large amount for an individual smuggler to carry in their luggage.
A spokesman for the Central District Police said Sunday the estimated street value of the cocaine could be as high as NIS 30 million, though earlier they had put the value at a more modest NIS 12m.