(photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
Mob boss Avi Ruhan thought he’d be out of jail for Passover, but his well-timed arrest Monday for the murder of a man who testified against him will see him still behind bars well after the Seder.
His arrest for the murder of Shay Bachar – a Hod Hasharon fruit vendor who was blown up by a car bomb while driving through the central Israel city on January 23 – didn’t seem to faze the organized crime boss, who over the past couple of years has seen police repeatedly try and fail to stick murder cases on him.
Ruhan’s remand extension Tuesday came just a day before a scheduled hearing in the Lod District Court, where his lawyers expected him to be released pending trial in a separate extortion case which has seen him behind bars already for months. That case has stayed on the docket despite the murder of the state’s key witness in the complaint against Ruhan – Shay Bachar.
In the meantime, Ruhan will remain behind bars, as will associates Eli Bibi and Yitzhak Nafdaji, who were arrested on Monday as well and like Ruhan, received eight-day remand extensions.
A fourth associate, Muhadi Taheh of Kafr Kasem, was ordered kept in custody for a further six days.
Ruhan has the perfect alibi for the murder – he was in prison. Police are not trying to argue that he played a physical role in carrying out the bombing, but that he ordered and/or helped plan the killing.
Kobi Ben-Shaya, Ruhan’s attorney, took aim at this allegation, pointing out that at Ayalon Prison Ruhan has zero access to outside visitors other than his wife and that every single one of his phone calls is recorded by prison authorities and the police.
The officer representing the Israel Police in court on Tuesday did not say how they believe Ruhan orchestrated the attack, saying to do so would jeopardize their case.
They also did not reveal the details of how the other associates are believed to be connected to the bombing.
Ben-Shaya said “this arrest is just a media circus that will amount to nothing more than headlines. The timing was expected, coming one day before he was to be released from custody. My client has nothing to do with this incident and I have no doubt this will be cleared up.”
Eli Bibi, the brother of Ruhan’s sister-in-law, owns a produce distribution business in Petah Tikva and Bachar ran up a large debt to him before he was killed, police confirmed in court. There is also some question whether his car was used to carry out the bombing, though his lawyer argued that the vehicle had been lent out to Nafdaji at the time.
Ruhan has spent the past several months in prison awaiting trial in an extortion case which is based on a campaign of terror that police say he and his associates waged against Bachar.
Bachar’s testimony to investigators formed the backbone of the indictment issued against Ruhan and his associate Sami Mizan in October.
The two men stand accused of relentlessly threatening Bachar in order to get him to pay back a debt he owed to a local store owner.
The suspects charged exorbitant interest rates that caused the debt to grow at a fevered pace even as Bachar made payments. When he was unable to keep up, he was repeatedly threatened by Ruhan and his men, and on one occasion, one of Ruhan’s associates cut his arm with a kitchen knife early one morning in a barbecue restaurant, according to the indictment.
Bachar later tried to recant his complaint, saying that police forced him into making it, an allegation repeated by his relatives after his murder, who accused police of failing to protect him.
Ruhan didn’t seem worried on Tuesday, laughing and grinning as he told reporters he expected to be released without charge. He also waved at a series of relatives and friends who blew kisses, joking that he wouldn’t make the Passover Seder but he’d try to make Shabbat dinner, if only the prison guards hadn’t taken away his electric appliances.
Ruhan’s Sharon-based crime organization is one of the main targets of Israel’s organized crime investigators, and is believed to be responsible for a string of underworld murders in recent years.
Ruhan himself was arrested and later released without charge in November 2013, for his alleged role in the murder of two men killed in a car bomb at the Yarkonim junction in Petah Tikva in July 2013. He also is believed to be responsible for the 2006 murder of Eyal Salhov, an associate of Ruhan’s who had become a police informant.