3 Israelis arrested in UK in massive drug bust

Israeli, British police find between 7 and 10 tons of Moroccan hashish in renovated tugboat.

drug boat 224.88 (photo credit: Tel Aviv Police )
drug boat 224.88
(photo credit: Tel Aviv Police )
After tracking a renovated tugboat, packed with between seven and 10 tons of Moroccan hashish, around three continents for more than a year, Tel Aviv undercover police agents and their British counterparts have made the largest narcotics bust in Israeli policing history, raiding the boat and arresting the Israeli drug-smuggling cartel as well as British nationals, in the English port city of Southampton. Three suspects are in custody, police said Thursday: Hezi Serbero, 57, the notorious ringleader who previously served a seven-year prison sentence for attempting to smuggle ecstasy pills out of Holland; Mordechai Hirsch, 67; and sea vessel company owner Moshe Keder, 81, described by police as their oldest drug smuggler in custody to date. Keder owned the tugboat that the police agents raided. "The operation began a year and a half ago, when we received intelligence on an Israeli group attempting to organize a shipment of a large quantity of hashish from Pakistan to Europe," said Ch.-Supt. Aharon Valariola, head of intelligence for the Tel Aviv Police. "We launched an undercover investigation and followed the ship, a renovated tugboat, as it sailed away from Eilat with an Israeli crew and reached the coast of the [east] African Republic of Djibouti. There, the ship changed crews. Members of the ring had made contact in Pakistan with a view to buy the drugs there, but then changed their minds and decided to purchase in Morocco," Valariola said. Meanwhile, a channel of communications had been established with a number of British Pakistanis, as the UK had been chosen as the target country to ship and sell the hashish. Once they learned of the smugglers' intentions, the Israel Police made contact with their UK counterparts. Other foreign police forces were also brought into the picture as the investigation reached Belgium, "where the ringleader spent most of his time organizing funds." "Throughout the year, the smugglers forked out many expenses on fuel, port taxes, ship renovations and crews. The ship headed for Essaouira, on the Moroccan coast, where the hashish, worth $15 million to $20 million, was purchased. It then set sail for Southampton, all the while under our watch," Valariola recounted. By the time the ship had docked on the south coast of England, ready to unload its food containers stuffed with hashish, Tel Aviv Police officers, staying at a nearby Southampton hotel, were ready to pounce with UK narcotics officers last weekend. "There could be more arrests in the future. We are now at the overt stage of the investigation, and the suspects will be questioned," the police intelligence head said. He added that he was not surprised that links had been forged between Israeli smugglers and Pakistani and Moroccan drug handlers. "Unfortunately, many Israelis are involved in drug smuggling rings around the world."