A heavily-guarded Ramle Magistrate's Court extended the custody of underworld kingpins Amir Mulner and Ze'ev Rosenstein by several days on Thursday, as leading Israeli mob bosses faced the fallout of a massive police operation to smash a cocaine trafficking scheme.
Rosenstein, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence for a previous conviction of Ecstasy trafficking, had his custody extended by 10 days after a suspect arrested in the police's cocaine-linked raids turned-state's witness, and linked Rosenstein to an unrelated 2001 triple homicide of an underworld rival and his two bodyguards in Tiberias.
Mulner, who police say runs a powerful crime organization, and who was linked to the cocaine smuggling plot by the state's witness, had his custody extended by six days, while his deputy, Uri Luzon, was remanded in custody for eight days by the Magistrate's Court judge.
One by one, 26 suspects arrested in connection with the smuggling ring and the Tiberias murders were brought into the court under heavy police and Israel Prisons Service guard. They all have denied the charges against them.
Leading gangsters are usually unmoved by arrests and police raids, but when they confronted the state's witness at a police station, "they were in shock," a police source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The suspects have in recent days been forced to face the state's witness, a man they know well, in a police interrogation room, and realized the extent of the police case against them when they recognized their former acquaintance, the source added.
One suspect reportedly lost his cool and attempted to assault the witness, calling him a liar, before officers removed him from the interrogation room.
Attorney Moti Katz, who represents Mulner and Rosenstein, dismissed the police suspicions against his clients, describing them as "not serious." He said Mulner was willing to undergo a lie detector test.
The suspects also include senior crime family members Haiman and Azul Karaja, who are based in the North.
Moshe Sherman, an attorney who represents the Karaja suspects, said he was not disturbed by the state's witness, and cited previous cases which relied on such testimony.
Police, however, are highly confident of their case, which in addition to the state's witness is also based on electronic eavesdropping and undercover investigations spanning several countries and two years.
Police have vowed to indict all of the suspects in the coming days.
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.