Court remands 15 in gambling, laundering case

Yearlong undercover investigation busts website that laundered NIS 6-7 b. over past 5 years.

Gambling 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC)
Gambling 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC)
As the prone continued in one of the biggest international gambling and money-laundering sting operations in the state’s history, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court remanded 15 out of 16 suspects brought before it on Thursday to four days in custody.
The last suspect fell ill, and according to some reports had an epileptic seizure in court, and was raced to a hospital. The court also later ordered him released to house arrest in light of his precarious health condition.
The yearlong undercover case known as hagiga b’reshet (Web party) has centered around a website called Don-Bet which used word of mouth to bring in members who could bet on a wide range of sporting events and card games.
According to police, the website brought in at least NIS 6 billion to 7b. over the past five years.
An army of attorneys fought unsuccessfully to get the other 15 suspects released, at least to house arrest. They argued that not all of the defendants could be the leaders of the alleged scheme, and the court should therefore release almost all of them, since most are only suspected of ancillary involvement. The court recognized this and said that a later point, it might make sense to distinguish between the suspects, but at this stage, it is too early to expect the police to have made such distinctions, especially in light of the sophisticated nature of the scheme.
The case became public on Wednesday morning, when hundreds of YAMAR detectives, led by Tel Aviv Ch.- Supt. Gadi Eshed, joined by investigators from the Tax Authority and anti-fraud task force, carried out dozens of raids at houses, tech support centers and money changing stores across the country. Over the course of the day they arrested 55 people, around half of whom were brought for remand extensions Wednesday night.
Police said the suspects face charges of money laundering, running an illegal gambling operation, conspiracy to commit a crime and tax evasion. During the raids, police said they also seized cars, real estate and hundreds of bank accounts worth tens of millions of dollars.
More than a simple website, the operation worked with a clear hierarchy of money couriers; mainly taxi drivers, as well as tech support workers, enforcers, shareholders and account managers who operated databases of gamblers. The massive revenues were then laundered in Israel through money changers and real estate. In an attempt to throw off investigators, gamblers would use their credit cards to place bets on sites based outside of Israel, though the headquarters was in the country. The site was only open to people who were invited by fellow gamblers.
Defense attorneys slammed the testifying police officers for lack of evidence, trying to get them to reveal the contents of the classified report they submitted to the court. The police would only confirm that they had large amounts of evidence based on wiretaps, which had been submitted to the court. The court declared that there was already enough material evidence at this stage to to conclude that a conviction was possible.
On Wednesday, Eshed said the network served as a vital source of revenue for local organized crime families and that he has no doubt the arrests will deal “a painful blow” to their operations.
On Thursday, had a message reading “Dear user, the site is being upgraded. We apologize for the inconvenience, please try again in a few minutes,” splashed across its homepage.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.