Anatomy of a mob hit

Ex-Hapoel Beersheba player allegedly murdered over "business dispute."

Southern crime boss Hagai Zagori and seven of his deputies plotted last year’s murder of former Hapoel Beersheba soccer defender Eli Uzan, acted as “violent” loan sharks, and used a floating casino to launder money and smuggle drugs, cigarettes and alcohol into the country, according to a 40-page indictment filed with the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court on Sunday.
Zagori’s attorney, Avi Himi, said his client denies all charges, and that the charges are unsubstantiated. The indictment will fail to lead to convictions, Himi said.
Zagori and the members of his organization were arrested in January after an underworld figure turned state’s witness. Thirty-two suspects were arrested, from three alleged crime syndicates in the South and Center, including Zagori and seven of his associates.
The eight suspects from Zagori’s organization have been charged with belonging to a crime organization, murder, attempted murder, money laundering, and blackmail.
According to the indictment sheet, in early October 2009, a man named Moshe Rubin asked Zagori to murder Uzan, for reasons that remain unclear. Uzan had become mixed up in gambling and debts after his soccer career, and may have owned money to underworld figures.
“Zagori decided to agree to the request, and to use a member of the organization to put him to death,” the indictment says. “Following his decision, Zagori took advantage of a request by Uzan for a loan from him, and pretended to be interested in opening a gambling club together with him and [Zagori’s alleged funds manager, who turned state’s witness,] Yaniv Buvlil,” the charge sheet continues.
Zagori allegedly offered to pay for gambling equipment needed to operate the club, and on November 23, 2009, allegedly invited Uzan to the Arabica Restaurant in Beersheba’s Old City to discuss the venture.
Before the meeting, a member of the organization was tasked with tracking Uzan’s movements, while a second suspect, named by prosecutors as Zakaria Edri, was ordered to invite Uzan to his home after the meal.
Uzan met with Zagori and Buvilil at the restaurant at 10 p.m., the charge sheet says, and 90 minutes later, he drove to Edri’s home in the Ramot neighborhood.
“Minutes later, in accordance with instructions from Zagori, Uzan was shot through his right cheek by one of the members of the organizations whose identity is not known on Levi Eshkol Street in Beersheba,” according to prosecutors. Uzan sustained serious brain damage and subsequently died.
The charge sheet goes on to detail other alleged attempted murders over “business disputes.”
The suspects also ran a tax-free store and a casino on the Magic One cruise ship, which regularly sails on the Mediterranean, according to the indictment. The suspects smuggled cigarettes, alcohol and drugs on the ship, laundered money, and violated tax laws, according to the charge sheet.
Two hundred-twenty witnesses appear on the charge sheet, including pop star Eyal Golan and well known entertainer Nancy Brandes.
Golan denied any connection to the affair and denied giving evidence in the investigation, saying he merely appeared on the Magic One once a month to sing. Other reports have alleged that he took a loan to gamble on the ship, but that he was not suspected of any criminal wrongdoing.
A police source told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, “Golan is not suspected of any offenses. As one of the 220 witnesses, he was asked to speak to us and provided a statement, which he did.”
The charge sheet also accuses the suspects of “violently punishing those in debt in order to collect high interest.”
Zagori completed a prison sentence in 2008 for attempting to bribe Hapoel Beersheba players and match-fixing.
Zagori’s brother Yaniv is serving a seven-year prison sentence for a variety of severe crimes.