Israeli 'King of Ecstasy' nabbed in Rio

Yoram El-Al charged with drug violations and organized crime offenses

An Israeli whom police described as one of the world's leading Ecstasy traffickers was apprehended late Saturday by Brazilian police, ending a two-year-long manhunt. Yoram El-Al, 35, was wanted by Israeli, American and Uruguayan authorities on charges including US federal drug violations as well as racketeering and organized-crime related offenses. According to Brazilian police, El-Al, known as the "King of Ecstasy," was nabbed in Rio de Janeiro and offered no resistance when he was apprehended in the Ipanema district while walking on the beach. Brazilian Federal Police spokesman Altair da Costa said that El-Al arrived in Brazil a few days ago and was under surveillance by local authorities before his arrest. A Rio police spokesman added that El-Al had rented a house in the seaside neighborhood for a year, and that the arrest resulted from a coordinated operation among the four countries. US authorities have already requested his extradition, Da Costa said, adding that Brazilian authorities would likely expedite that process. In 2005, El-Al narrowly escaped extradition by breaking out of a Uruguayan prison, a move which earned him a spot on Interpol's most wanted list. After his arrest by Uruguayan authorities on suspicion of using a forged passport, he managed to evade extradition with the help of two locals who impersonated police officers and helped him escape from jail. Following that escape, the US authorities enlisted Interpol's assistance, which issued an international warrant for his arrest. El-Al invoked the wrath of US authorities after allegedly coordinating the 2004 shipment of 1.4 million pills or "tabs" of Ecstasy into the country, believed to be the largest such shipment ever to reach America. As a result, the Drug Enforcement Administration slapped a heavy set of charges on the Tel Aviv native, including conspiracy to commit extortion, collection of extensions of credit by extortionate means, interference with commerce by threats of violence, conspiracy to commit money laundering, transporting monetary instruments for the purpose of laundering money, and money laundering. Ecstasy is frequently manufactured in European laboratories, and then distributed - with as much as 75 percent passing through Israeli dealers - to the US. A 2003 US State Department report put Israeli gangsters at the center of international Ecstasy trafficking. In 2005, El-Al was named as part of what US media called the "Jerusalem Network" which took over control of the valuable Las Vegas Ecstasy market. The crime syndicate was allegedly headed by 39-year-old Israeli expatriate Gabriel Ben-Harosh and connected to the Netanya-based Abergil crime family. El-Al was cited as one of Ben-Harosh's direct underlings. While US authorities only became aware of El-Al's activities in 2004, the Israel Police have long been familiar with the heavy-set gangster. Years earlier, he was sitting in gangster Assi Abutbul's BMW when it was blown up in an assassination attempt on the crime family scion. El-Al was seriously wounded, but survived with massive scarring and has since become a bitter enemy of the young Abutbul, despite his close connections with Assi's late father, Felix Abutbul. El-Al was also a suspect in the December 2003 Tel Aviv hit attempt on rival Ecstasy kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein that killed three innocent passersby but missed the target. After the attempt, El-Al fled Rosenstein's wrath and flew to the US in 2004.