Crime ‘kingpin’ faces extradition

By Yaakov Katz, August 28, 2008

Organised crime in Israel may have been dealt a blow this week with the arrest of alleged mobster Itzik Abergil following an extradition request by the United States.

Mr Abergil has featured on Israeli police's "most-wanted" lists for the past two decades and has repeatedly been investigated on a wide range of allegations including drug-dealing, money-laundering, illegal gambling and, most recently, murder, with the July botched mob hit on a Bat Yam beach that killed Marguerita Lautin, a 31-year-old mother-of-two.

Mr Abergil was arrested with his older brother, Meir, who police said was one of the country's major heroin dealers.

"The Abergils are one of the leading organised-crime families in Israel," said Chief-Inspector Micky Rosenfeld, spokesman for the Israel police. "In recent years we have stepped up our operations in combating organised crime and this week we had a major success in coordination with US law enforcement authorities."

In recent years, the Abergil clan has gained power and prestige in the criminal world in the midst of a bitter battle against the Abutbul family and jailed mobster Ze'ev Rosenstein, who in 2004 was arrested on a similar US extradition request. Rosenstein was later convicted in a Miami court under a plea bargain and sent back to Israel to serve out his 12-year prison term.

The mob war has been costly and a series of bombings, drive-by shootings and even anti-tank missile attacks have killed close to two-dozen people, many of them innocent bystanders. Mr Abergil himself has been the target of at least five assassination attempts in recent years.

After evading prison like the Abergil brothers, Rosenstein was finally arrested in 2004 and was convicted of running a ring that smuggled millions of dollars' worth of ecstasy into the US.

The US indictment against Mr Abergil - presented in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on Tuesday - listed a series of alleged offences including the Los Angeles murder of Israeli drug-dealer Sammy Atias, money-laundering, drug-dealing and extortion.

"I have never been to the US and all of the allegations against me are a police provocation," Mr Abergil told reporters at the beginning of the court session.

Mr Abergil's lawyer, Sharon Nahari, rejected the accusations against his client and said he was confident the extradition would not take place.

"The accusations are based on pure speculation and we will fight to release all of the suspects," he said. A police source said that one reason US authorities were involved in cracking Israeli organised-crime rings was because most of the criminal organisations were no longer based in Israel but throughout the world - mainly in Eastern Europe, the US and Asia.

"Abergil is one of the leading criminals in Israel and if convicted and sent to jail his departure from the crime scene will be a fatal blow to organised crime in Israel," said Miki Levy, a former Israel police attaché to the US.

Last updated: 3:48pm, August 28 2008