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Hundreds of police officers accompanied by Treasury and Tax Authority officials, a bomb squad and sniffer dogs launched multiple raids on what they say is the South's largest criminal organization on Tuesday, arresting its head, Shalom Domrani, on money laundering charges.
Domrani and seven other suspects were arrested on suspicion of laundering more than NIS 10 million through a front currency exchange business in Ashkelon, police said.
Six others were detained for questioning.
Until Tuesday's arrest, Domrani lived in a walled, heavily secured mansion in Moshav Otzem, near Ashkelon, surrounded by CCTV cameras and patrolled by security guards.
Police consider him to be the most powerful organized crime boss in the South and kept tabs on Domrani's every move with the help of a surveillance balloon permanently stationed above his home.
"Following an undercover investigation that lasted for over a year, the National Crimes section of the Lahav 433 anti-organized crime unit raided the Best Change establishment in Ashkelon," police said in a statement. "The business operated as a currency service that allegedly formed a part of the economic arm of the crime organization linked to Shalom Domrani."
According to police, the exchange business has been controlled since May 2007 by a cousin of Domrani, and was used to launder more than NIS 10m., thereby acting as the organization's "bank."
"A number of regular customers cashed their checks there under false names to disguise their true activities," police said.
Two hundred-and-twenty police officers carried out simultaneous raids on Domrani's residence in Otzem, and the homes of other suspects in Ashkelon, Bat Yam and Rishon Lezion - addresses police said were "affiliated to the organization."
The officers were accompanied by a bomb squad and sniffer dogs that are trained to find drugs and explosives.
Armed with an order from the Beersheba District Court, the authorities also seized cars, tractors and other assets from Domrani's property and the properties of additional suspects. Domrani's remand was extended until Friday by a Tel Aviv Magistrate on Tuesday.
The investigation is being conducted together with by the State Prosecution's economic department. More arrests are expected in connection with the raids, police added.
Domrani, 34, is the son of an Ethiopian-born father and an Israeli sabra mother. He grew up in Ashkelon's tough immigrant Shimshon neighborhood.
In the mid-1990s, Domrani was convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to five years in prison. He sentence was increased by 30 months after he was found guilty of attempting to extort a contractor from behind bars, and linked to a car bomb targeting the contractor. Domrani was released in 2002.