Tel Aviv Magistrates Court on Wednesday ordered accused sex offender Shai Avital’s detention to be extended to seven days after his extradition from the Netherlands to Israel the day before.
The modeling agent fled Israel after dozens of allegations surfaced against him, listing sexual harassment, including assault and forcing himself upon models he was working with. In total, 26 women have filed complaints of sexual harassment against Avital.
In July 2021, following the allegations, police opened a criminal investigation into the accusations leveled at Avital, who fled to Amsterdam. This was followed by a joint Israeli and Dutch police operation, in cooperation with Interpol, ending in his arrest last August, more than 12 months after the allegations first emerged.
Avital begins court battle by claiming innocence
At Wednesday morning’s court hearing, Avital’s attorneys argued against the court’s designation of their client as a “fugitive,” claiming that “when he left the country there was no investigation at the time.” However, the modeling agent refused to return when the Israel Police summoned him for questioning.
Avital is expected to be charged on two counts of sexual harassment that occurred in 2014 and 2015 and in 2019 and 2020. Attorney Sassi Gez claimed that a woman whom Avital was accused of sexually assaulting while unconscious changed her account of the incident during the police probe.
“If the woman was conscious, then the [sexual acts] happened with her consent.... According to her statement she was not drugged. All of a sudden, now she is saying she was drugged,” the attorney said, adding that Avital “would not have been extradited if he wasn’t famous.” His attorney asked the court to allow Avital to confront his accusers.
There is “substantially reasonable suspicion” that Avital, who was caught winking in court at a woman who reportedly came to his support, committed the offenses “based on messages, complaints, after-action reports and other documents,” a magistrate said at the hearing.
There is justification for [the extension of] his arrest due to the danger he poses, but more justification due to his obstruction of justice and legal proceedings, the judge said.