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Israeli’s arrest puts spotlight on transnational crime



The high-profile extradition hearing of notorious Israeli fugitive and alleged crime kingpin Yaniv Yossi Ben Simon attracted a watertight police and military presence at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court this week.

It follows the dramatic swoop on this top Israeli crime figure in Gauteng last Thursday, 17 November, in which he and seven others were arrested in an early morning raid that netted an astonishing weapons cache, stolen vehicles, drugs, and hordes of cash.

The arrests, conducted by a multidisciplinary operation led by Interpol South Africa, organised crime detectives, National Crime Intelligence, and the Special Task Force, sent shock waves through the country. It has shone a light on the steady increase in transnational organised crime and growing unease that South Africa has become a haven for it.

The media has now been barred from court proceedings as part of strict security measures due to sensitive information and security around the high-profile case.

Ben Simon, 46, and the seven other men appeared in the Randburg Magistrates’ Court in Johannesburg on Monday, 21 November. Ben Simon, who has apparently been living in South Africa since 2007, is wanted by Israel on a number of charges and on suspicion of being a close associate of jailed Israeli crime boss Yitzhak Abergil, the leader of the so-called Abergil organisation, a crime syndicate.

Abergil, who is linked to an investigation known as Case 512, is serving three life sentences and an additional 30 years in an Israeli jail for the murder of three uninvolved bystanders in a 2003 bombing that was an attempted hit on rivals, as part of his role as head of an organised crime group involved in drug trafficking, extortion, and other criminal activities.

Ben Simon was allegedly involved in the attempted hit on rivals of the Abergil syndicate in two separate incidents in 2003 and 2004. The Abergil syndicate has long been considered a central player in Israel’s criminal underworld, according to the Times of Israel.

The exact crimes Ben Simon is alleged to have committed are as yet unknown, but more is expected to be revealed in extradition papers.

Ben Simon isn’t your typical Al Capone-style mobster as he doesn’t lead a flashy lifestyle or wear fancy clothes, according to reliable sources. He seems to operate quietly under the radar and, because of this, security insiders say, he has been able to evade arrest for several years.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said the case against the group of suspects was being held in-camera without media or members of the public being allowed in.

The case against the eight accused was postponed to 28 November.

Ben Simon is expected in court on Thursday, 24 November, where his attorney, Ian Levitt, is expecting to be handed the extradition papers outlining the exact nature of the alleged offences his client is wanted for by Israeli authorities.

Levitt told the SA Jewish Report on Wednesday, “We haven’t seen the charge sheet yet. We’ll get the extradition papers on Thursday. No further comment.”

Ben Simon, whose high-walled, electric-fenced, rented home where the arrests took place, in the upmarket suburb of Bryanston in Johannesburg, has been described by the South African Police Service as one of Israel’s most wanted criminals. He has appeared on Interpol’s Red List since 2015.

During the police operation, the discovery of a 3kg substance thought to be cocaine, several assault rifles including AK47s, an array of firearms, drones fitted with cameras, and stolen motorbikes and vehicles were among the items seized. A sniper van with an inbuilt soundproofed compartment was also discovered, as well as bullet-proof vests, money counting machines, and a scale for weighing drugs.

Sources in policing circles said the items seized pointed towards a syndicate that was possibly carrying out hits and kidnappings.

National police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe, without naming Ben Simon, said last week that the accused was wanted in Israel and was “attached to a criminal organisation [there] called the Abergil organisation”.

Chad Thomas of IRS Forensic Investigations, which investigates financial crimes, said, “South Africa is perceived to be a haven for fugitives,” with cases going back to that of Italian mafia boss Vito Palazzolo and the most well-known being Czech crime boss Radovan Krejcir.

“Although Krejcir hid in plain sight, he continued his criminal activities, and it seems the Israelis have also continued unabated with criminal activities in South Africa just like they had allegedly been doing in Israel,” he said.

“The greater concern is that during the raids, an arsenal of weapons was found. Some were converted to sniper rifles. [There were also] illicit narcotics and stolen motorcycles. We have seen that motorcycles are the easiest vehicle to use for a hit, so the fact that there were stolen motorcycles, converted firearms, and a converted bakkie with a sniper’s den suggests that they may, in fact, be a group that’s available for murder for hire [assassins]. These guys may have been here hiding as fugitives, but they were also prepared to continue criminal activities locally,” he said.

Crimes had already been committed, Thomas said, namely the alleged illegal possession of firearms and narcotics and illegal possession of stolen vehicles, and the fact that the prime suspect was an international fugitive.

“What now needs to be established is whether further crimes have been committed such as actual drug trafficking, manufacturing, and or murder for hire,” he said.

Though there was the perception that South Africa was a haven for fugitives, Thomas commended law enforcement agencies in this case.

“Our detective units and South African Special Task Force and Interpol were integral in this take down, which didn’t happen overnight. It took planning, surveillance, and intelligence for this operation to take place swiftly and seamlessly without a shot being fired. This shows the professionalism of our police and the fact that we have the ability to deal with organised crime,” he said.

“It’s bad enough that we have enough home-grown criminals to last us a life time and create so much work for our authorities. We shouldn’t allow for the importation of these criminals, and that’s why it’s good that the authorities went in hard and made sure they stamped their authority all over this,” he said.

Thomas said state law enforcement authorities were willing to prosecute serious crimes, and the country has excellent legislation to combat organised crime, but they are let down by lack of capacity, infrastructure, resources, and political will.

Community Active Protection Chairperson Sean Jammy said, “We laud the authorities for this great success. It’s evident from this and other cases that organised criminals live among us, and while they may not present an immediate threat or risk to our safety, the number of lives destroyed and societal impact of organised crime is massive.”

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