Abergil arrested in witness death

Yaakov Abergil arrested for allegedly assisting in death of state's witness.

prison block 88 (photo credit: )
prison block 88
(photo credit: )
Police have arrested Ya'acov Abergil for assisting in the death of Yoni Alzam, the prisoner who died of poisoning in his cell hours before he was supposed to testify at a murder trial. Abergil was one of two people who visited Alzam on the day of his death. He is due to appear in court on Tuesday when police will make a request to extend his custody. Police also said on Monday that Alzam died of cyanide poisoning, having confirmed almost two weeks ago that he was poisoned. They also said there was no suspicion that members of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) were involved in the death. Until now, there had been a gag order on the case, although this was lifted on Monday. Abergil's lawyer, Sharon Nahari, said his client was innocent of any wrongdoing. "Ya'acov visited Yonni dozens of times," said Nahari. "He was his friend. He has no connection to Yonni's death" Nahari added that Abergil was investigated two months ago on the same matter and that he has no connection to the suspected crime family of the same name. Last month, the court authorized the police to disclose that two people visited Alzam just before he died and that detectives were investigating Shimon Zirhan in connection with his death. Alzam died in the middle of December 2005 just before he was scheduled to testify against Zirhan for the latter's part in the death of crime figure Hanania Ohana in 2003. Alzam and Zirhan were allegedly hired by the Abergil organization to carry out the murder. Zirhan is suspected of shooting and killing Ohana in front of his wife and child in a Petah Tikvah parking lot. Alzam was sentenced in November to life in prison for his involvement in Ohana's murder, but as a state witness he received 24-hour protection from prison guards and was held in a private cell so that he could be kept separate from the general prison population. Despite Alzam dying while in its care, the IPS attempted to absolve itself of the responsibility for his death. IPS spokesman Ofer Lefler said it didn't receive all the information from the police that it should have done, including that Alzam tried to kill himself before he came under the responsibility of the IPS. Lefler also said Alzam committed suicide and was not murdered. "Whoever wants to commit suicide will do so," said Lefler. He confirmed that the two people who saw Alzam just before he died visited him a number of times. "His visitors were two friends who were checked by the system and there was no information that (the IPS) was supposed to prevent their visits," Lefler said. "They weren't members of a criminal organization. Just because somebody is called Abergil, that doesn't mean he is a criminal," he added. He also said that the rights that prisoners have makes it difficult to catch smuggled items. "Prisoners in Israel have many privileges that were given to them by the courts. It is forbidden to carry out invasive body searches and they can have open visits," Lefler said. "The IPS can not totally prevent the smuggling, receiving and concealing of small quantities of drugs or other materials," he said. Nevertheless, once the police investigation has been closed, Lieutant-General Yaakov Ganot will discuss with the attorney-general whether to take disciplinary measures against prison officers and guards. Ganot has also appointed deputy commissioner Danny Avidan to head a committee to investigate the rules governing the separation and safeguarding of prisoners. In addition, the IPS has changed some of the procedures governing visits to prisoners who are receiving special protection. Only close relatives can visit them and the meetings have to take place with a separation barrier.