Network allegedly marketed trips from Israel for tourists to have sex with minors who were forced into prostitution; 6 Israelis held, arrest warrants issued for other suspects
By TOI STAFF
Fourteen Israelis are suspected by Colombian authorities of running a child sex trafficking ring which marketed tour packages from Israel to the Latin American country aimed at businessmen and recently discharged soldiers, according to reports on Monday.
Eight suspects are in custody, including two Colombian nationals, with international arrest warrants issued for the remaining individuals. One of the Colombians was a police officer who allegedly passed classified information to one of the suspected ringleaders, Mor Zohar, allowing him to run the trafficking network without interference from the authorities.
According to a report by Hadashot, one of the Israelis is also being held on suspicion of murder and others are also suspected of money laundering.
Colombian authorities said Israeli tourists would stay at hotels and take yacht trips and go to drug and alcohol-fueled private parties where women and minors were offered as “sex slaves.”
The children and teens were paid $63-126 for each “meeting” with Israeli tourists, and were forced to join a WhatsApp group called “Purim,” presumably named for the drunken celebrations that take place around the Jewish holiday, the Ynet news site reported.
All of the suspects were wanted by international police agency Interpol on suspicion of pimping and soliciting minors for prostitution.
Authorities raided a number of properties including a spa in Santa Marta, a hostel in Bogota, and a building known as “Casa Medellin.” The suspects were arrested in a number of locations around the country, and property worth around $45,000 was seized as part of the investigation.
The office of the Colombian attorney general posted a tweet with a video of what it said were properties used by the ring.
Members of the network established tourism sites and hotels throughout the country, giving the operation an outward veneer of respectability. However, at the same time, they targeted boys and girls who came from troubled homes or had a background of financial difficulties, and forced them into sex work.
Proceeds from the trafficking ring were then reinvested into property and companies.
Prosecutors said the investigation began in June 2016 with the murder of Israeli national Shai Azran in Medellin, who was thought to have been killed in a hit arranged by another Israeli due to a dispute over a property sale, Ynet reported.
The main suspect, Assi Ben-Mosh, was deported from Colombia in November 2017 on suspicion of drug offences, soliciting children for prostitution and tax offences.
The Israeli had allegedly been running a resort hotel near the northern Colombian town of Santa Marta, where he had set up a drug and sex crime ring. The Hotel Benjamin, in the fishing village of Taganga, was an attraction for many Israelis on their post-army travels but was unpopular with local residents due to the activities associated with it. His operations also extended into Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico, local media reported.
Ben-Mosh and his partners were suspected of drug-dealing, forcing minors into prostitution, and tax evasion, Hebrew media reported when the expulsion order against him was issued. Ben-Mosh had tried unsuccessfully to prevent his deportation from Columbia, including by applying to become a resident.
In August, Colombia issued an international arrest warrant for Ben-Mosh on suspicion of involvement in a child sex trafficking ring. Authorities in Bogota suspect he was involved remotely in a suspected sex trafficking ring that they broke up in raids, Colombian media reports said at the time.
Police in Colombia arrested 18 people in a raid on Hotel Benjamin hostel in Cartagena in July. The suspects are accused of running a sex ring, recruiting young girls from Colombia and Venezuela and forcing them to work as sex slaves. Reuters reported that more than 250 girls between 14- and 17-years-old were forced to have sex with locals and tourists.