Police try to battle protection racket

Subaru car dealership in Tel Aviv targeted for third time by criminals seeking to extract protection money from its owners.

Early on Wednesday morning, a Subaru car dealership in Tel Aviv was targeted for a third time by criminals seeking to extract protection money from its owners. A stun grenade was thrown at the dealership on Rehov Masger, at approximately 2:30 a.m., shattering display windows. No one was injured. Extortion rackets have become an endemic problem for Israeli businesses, former senior police officer Dr. Danny Gimshi told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "This is one of the most serious problems faced by police today. It is like a plague, and it is going on all over Israel," said Gimshi, who is head of the Community Safety Research Institute at Rishon Lezion's College of Management. "I am constantly hearing about attempts by criminals to receive protection money," he said, adding that public sector organizations and local government officials were also being targeted. The Tel Aviv investigation is being led by the city's Police's Central Unit, which has been unable to halt a systematic campaign of intimidation aimed at the dealership's owners, despite arresting underworld figure Ben Cohen nine days ago in connection with a previous stun grenade attack on the same premises. In that attack, which took place last month, a grenade was thrown at midday, when the dealership was filled with people. Luckily, no one was injured. Two months ago, the dealership was hit by a similar midday attack. Cohen, who is reportedly an associate of Ramat Gan-based senior mob figure Amir Mulner, has been ordered to remain in custody until Monday by a Tel Aviv magistrate. Two of Cohen's associates, Shaul Buchnik and Moshe Elbaz, from Bnei Brak's Pardes Katz neighborhood, have also been arrested. A soldier may also be indicted after police found he stole the stun grenade used in one of the attacks from his army base and sold it to two of Cohen's associates. In a separate incident, a stun grenade was also used in an apparent extortion racket in Holon on Tuesday night, when persons unknown threw the grenade at a kiosk. "This issue is based on fear. Without fear and power, one can't conduct extortion," Gimshi explained. Violent attempts to intimate business owners into paying protection money usually took place in high-crime areas, and accompanied other forms of criminal activities, he said. "I'm not ashamed to say that in South, for example, businesses employ Beduin for protection so that they won't break-in and damage their establishments," Gimshi said. "This sort of crime happens where there is a lack of confidence in law enforcement. A democratic state is founded on the understanding that the state is given resources and authority, and the citizen is given personal security in return," he said, adding that extortion rackets flourished in the absence of the rule of law. Business owners must partner with police and local authorities to face down crime gangs, and police must enforce a zero-tolerance approach, Gimshi said. "Businesses must have confidence in police and report on the extortion attempts. Police in turn must employ means such as undercover agents and video surveillance to capture criminals when they interact with business owners. This interaction takes place when the criminals demand and collect money," he said. In additional, the Tax Authority should be brought in and instructed to investigate individuals who suddenly become wealthy without a clear and legally declared source of income. Inexplicable wealth could be used to catch criminals involved in taking protection money, Gimshi said. Hiring private security guards could also help, he said.