Police have shut down an enormous cocaine smuggling network involving senior Israeli mobsters and Panamanian criminals, it was revealed Wednesday.
The suspects in the case include underworld kingpin and explosives expert Amir Mulner, who is already serving a prison sentence for a separate case, and Uri Luzon, named by police as the number two operative in Mulner's organization.
The investigation into the drug smuggling ring led police to obtain information from a suspect-turned -state's witness which led to the arrest of senior mobster Ze'ev Rosenstein over suspicions of an unrelated triple homicide in Tiberias in 2001. Rosenstein is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for managing an international ecstasy smuggling network.
An international undercover investigation began earlier this year after the Central Police District's Central Unit received intelligence regarding a massive operation to smuggle pure, high-quality cocaine, stashed in electric transformers in speakers, into Israel from Panama in a shipping container.
The Customs Service and the Israel Postal Company were brought into the investigation, as were police in Panama, and Israeli police attaches abroad were activated to coordinate the transnational law enforcement operation.
According to police, a key player in the smuggling ring is an Israeli citizen, named as Ron Shvi. Shvi has no criminal background, and police said the idea of stashing the cocaine in speakers had been his.
In August, police added, the suspects began preparations for the first shipment of cocaine to arrive in Israel, via Indonesia.
Police in Panama then pounced, arresting several Panamanian suspects and seizing 108 kilograms of cocaine hidden in speakers. In Israel, meanwhile, police set their sights on preventing Israeli suspects from fleeing the country.
On August 19, Shvi was arrested on suspicion of acting as an "engineer" and a liaison connecting Israeli "investors" with smugglers abroad.
On August 26, undercover officers raided a lab in Petah Tikva in which false documents were created, and in which fake IDs, passports and checks bearing the names of several suspects, including Shvi, were found - thwarting a possible attempt to flee the country.
One of the suspects taken into custody, who cannot be named due to a court-imposed media ban issued to protect him, then turned state's witness and provided police with further information on the smuggling ring.
The suspect also provided tips on other drug-smuggling operations, and allegedly incriminated three further suspects, including Rosenstein, in an unrelated triple homicide case which took place in Tiberias in 2001. According to the state witness, Rozenstein ordered the killing of a mob boss and his two bodyguards in revenge for an attempt on his life in 1996.
On September 16, large numbers of police arrested 19 additional suspects in further raids, many of whom belong to organized crime syndicates, including Luzon.
Twenty-six people have been arrested in total - 23 for drug offenses and three on homicide charges.
Police confiscated luxury vehicles, yachts, hundreds of cellphones and large sums of cash.
A police investigator involved in the arrests told The Jerusalem Post that a major blow against organized crime and drug smuggling in Israel had been struck.
"This was a very serious channel for the import of drugs. The state witness discussed 12 operations to bring in a huge quantity of cocaine," the source said.
"There's no doubt that a very serious drug-smuggling avenue has been closed off. Of course this won't completely mitigate the drug flow, but organized criminals with considerable clout have been arrested," the source added.
"Those who think crime organizations only launder money are mistaken," the source said.â€¢