Cops bust Netanya mob lord

Israel Police claimed victory on Sunday morning over one of Netanya's most notorious gangsters, Aryeh "Rico" Shirazi, hoping that this time - unlike two years ago - the alleged loan-shark overlord would not slip through their grasp. The International and Serious Crimes Unit, working together with the Tax Authority, launched a series of raids at sunrise Sunday, arresting 10 people, including Shirazi and his son. All of the suspects, including lawyer and former police officer Avi Veig, are residents of the Central region, and all are suspected of involvement in a crime syndicate allegedly run by Shirazi. Veig, according to police, allegedly abused his authority and status to help the syndicate carry out fraud and forgery related to real estate and other fields. The arrests brought to a close a years-long undercover investigation into the syndicate, which police said had been closely followed by the Tel Aviv District Attorney's tax and economic crimes unit. Only two years ago, Shirazi escaped a high-profile probe, when the DA's office reached a plea bargain agreement with him. Police said Shirazi's syndicate was responsible for a long chain of serious offenses, including money-laundering and takeovers of legitimate businesses, organizing, managing and funding illegal gambling, illegally taking control of debtors' property, extortion through threats, fraudulently hiding assets and use of "straw man" bank accounts. The suspects arrested Sunday included the Tamam brothers - Kfir and Roni - who ran a Netanya Mercedes dealership believed to be a cover for money-laundering operations, as well as Itzik Ben Zaken, Yaki Bar Yosef, Dudi Daoun and David Barbi. Nine of the 10 suspects had their remand extended Sunday, but after seven hours of hearings, the hearing of the 10th suspect, Eli Katziri, was delayed and he was returned to detention. Detectives emphasized that they had no doubt that Shirazi stood at the head of the organization and "acted to advance his operations though managing, organizing, directing and overseeing, both directly and indirectly, and in addition acting as a negotiator and rulings-maker with regard to dividing up finances in the organization and among criminals." The organization seems to have had a very well-ordered "corporate" structure through which there was what one Intelligence and Investigations Division officer described as "a very clear division of labor in to secondary groupings - those who worked in money-laundering, debt collection, gambling, property holdings and so on." In one case the officer offered as an example, a suspect whose field of expertise was embezzlement and real estate fraud was in charge of locating potential debtors who had expensive real estate holdings. The suspect created a "charitable organization" called "Yad Lehayev" that claimed to assist people who were in debt. In fact, police said, the organization, "took advantage of their distress and took control of their property through fraud and systematic forgery." The syndicate, police claim, maintained a stiff business in "grey market" loans, operating a large number of "branches" that each controlled numerous debtors. Threats, violence and property seizure through intimidation awaited those who did not meet the payment demands that included exorbitant interest rates. ISCU detectives said they were still gathering information, even though they believed their case against Shirazi was already strong enough to hold water. They said they hoped that the covert investigation and the arrests of the key players would encourage victims to submit official complaints - an act police believe many feared doing prior to the arrests. Detectives claim the gangsters used their family members' and other peoples' bank accounts to hide tens of millions of shekels of income from the loan sharking, gambling and other sources of income. The syndicate heads then, police said, purchased expensive investments that were registered in others' names using false documentation.