US indictment of 'mob boss' revealed

Itzik Abergil remanded for 20 days, calls extradition request, murder allegations "police provocation".

Itzik Abergil 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Itzik Abergil 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Alleged mob kingpin Itzik Abergil, who is expected to be extradited to the United States, faces a slew of charges including murder, drug trafficking, embezzlement and extortion that could land him in jail for life, officials said Tuesday. The protracted legal battle over the extradition of Abergil, 39, his brother Meir, 53, and three top members of his organization who were arrested this weekend following the US extradition request, got underway Tuesday in a Jerusalem court, which granted the State's request to remand the five men in custody for twenty days ahead of the start of the extradition hearings. Abergil, who is suspected of heading "one of the most powerful crime families in Israel," has repeatedly avoided conviction in Israel on serious offenses. According to the US indictment, filed in the US district court in Los Angeles and made public in the Jerusalem court, Abergil was involved in the murder of Israeli drug-dealer Sammy Atias in Los Angeles five years ago, after the latter allegedly stole money from Abergil during a narcotics transaction. The Abergil syndicate decided to have Atias killed after he tried to steal a 165-pound Ecstasy shipment from Belgium, where the drug is often synthesized, the indictment says. The drugs would have been worth an estimated $7 million on the street. The five men are also suspected of engagement in bank embezzlement, extortion, kidnapping and money laundering in California. "Although the Abergil family was comprised of relatively few members, it wielded substantial power among other Israeli crime families because of its propensity for violence in Israel and around the world," the 77-page indictment reads. The charge sheet also says that Abergil, his brother Meir and three other partners allegedly embezzled millions of dollars worth of funds from the Tel Aviv Trade bank. Some of the embezzled money was transferred through them to the United States, where it was laundered by means of blackmailed business people. "Members of the enterprise and their associates would commit, attempt to commit, and threaten to commit acts of violence, kidnapping and extortion to protect and expand the criminal operations of the enterprise," the charge sheet says. "Members of the enterprise and their associates would promote a climate of fear through threats of physical violence against individuals and in retaliation for failure to pay legal and illegal debts." The extradition process is expected to take months, Israeli officials said. As they entered the Jerusalem courthouse under heavy police guard, the Abergil brothers denied any wrongdoing. "I am innocent, and will be going home," Itzhak Abergil told reporters in the courtroom before the start of the remand hearing, his hands cuffed. "I have never been to the United States, I do not want to go to the US, I hate the US and all of the allegations against me are a police provocation," his brother, Meir Abergil, said. As the five defendants sat on one court bench, interspersed with security guards, with an array of attorneys and family members filling the courtroom, the judge asked the suspects to state their names and whether any family members were present. "Yes, my older brother Meir," a bemused Itzhak Abergil said to laughter in the courtroom. The judge then ordered the prosecution to provide the defense with copies of the US indictment, and scolded them when they tried to argue against such a move. The US investigation into Abergil and his associates - which included the FBI, tax authorities and law enforcement officials from more than 10 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East - lasted six years. Abergil, who had been detained by police in connection with the murder of an innocent bystander on a Bat Yam beach last month in an unrelated failed mob hit which had shocked the country, was rearrested this weekend following the US extradition request. "It looks more than strange that a man is arrested for one thing and on the day he is released, a plea is submitted for another offense," Abergil's lawyer Sasi Gez said. "They never intended to arrest him on crimes committed in Israel," he said. The other defendants in custody are Sasson Barashy, 51; Moshe Malul, 36; and Israel Ozifa, 48. Yoram El-Al, 37, remains a fugitive. They could face life in prison if convicted. The US indictment does not list the names of the witnesses for the prosecution, provoking guessing, hypothesizing - as well as adamant denials - on who had turned state's witness. Israeli law enforcement officials say that the US indictment will effectively terminate the crime family's activities.