Veteran police officer charged with aiding criminals

Under the shadow of Judge (ret.) Vardi Zeiler's warning that the Israel Police was being infiltrated by mafia elements, a detective officer in the Immigration Police was indicted Monday on a cornucopia of charges stemming from his alleged cooperation with a crime syndicate. Tiran Zalai, 40, a veteran officer, allegedly took advantage of his status in the police to carry out a number of criminal offenses, including acting as the co-owner of a brothel. The indictment, delivered by the Justice Department's Police Investigative Division (PID), lists a total of 11 other defendants whom investigators believe are involved on a number of different levels with Zalai's assorted alleged offenses. According to the PID, Zalai "crossed the line" and maintained contacts with criminals involved in crime syndicates in order to further the gangsters' criminal schemes. In what they described as an "indictment exceptional in its severity," the PID said the rap sheet clearly showed that the officer abused his status in order to pass sensitive information to criminals. Among other crimes, PID representatives said, Zalai would inform criminals in advance of police raids. Illegal casinos and brothels benefited from this "service," which Zalai allegedly provided in exchange for bribes and favors. At the two brothels where he offered "protection," Zalai received VIP status, with complementary "favors" from the employees. Zalai is also suspected of running a brothel together with convicted criminal Kamel Ayat, prosecutors said. They emphasized that this charge was a later offense, after Zalai had already been involved with the gangsters. But according to the PID, that is the tip of the iceberg of the cop's offenses. Zalai allegedly also helped to defraud the Income Tax Authority. Adriana Cohen, a manager at the Income Tax Authority's Petah Tikva offices, was among the 11 other defendants listed on the indictment and suspected of aiding Zalai in his tax fraud. Zalai, who has denied the accusations leveled against him, has enlisted the services of criminal defense attorneys David Yiftach and Moshe Sherman. Zalai's defense has already been battered after alleged former brothel partner Ayat was sentenced to a year in prison last week on other offenses. Ayat is considered by police to be a member of the Hariri crime family, which is one of the most dominant Israeli Arab crime families, engaging in extortion, racketeering and the narcotics trade. Zalai is suspected of helping the crime family settle scores, by revealing to them details of a confidential murder investigation file and revealing the identity of a police informant who operated against the family in the Jaljulya area. Meanwhile Monday, the Israel Police cut the ribbon on a new task force center meant to streamline the law enforcement community's crackdown on organized crime. The new center, which is located in the Police National Headquarters, will integrate representatives from the Israel Tax Authority, the Money Laundering Authority and top police investigators in special cubicles that will enable better communication among the offices while still maintaining rules on personal information sharing. The office's work will be funded by the money impounded by courts following criminal trials.