Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

Colombia busts Israeli-run child sex network

Six Israelis are accused of running a sex tourism operation that exploited underage girls

Israelis Eyal Shaty (C) and More Zohar (L), alleged members of a prostitution network, are pictured before a hearing at a court in Medellin, Colombia on December 10, 2018. AFP
Israelis Eyal Shaty (C) and More Zohar (L), alleged members of a prostitution network, are pictured before a hearing at a court in Medellin, Colombia on December 10, 2018. AFP

Colombian police have arrested six Israelis on charges of running a sex tourism operation that exploited underage girls, prosecutors said.

After a two-year investigation, Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez told reporters Sunday that agents have broken up "an Israeli mafia that exploited and used girls, adolescents and women as sex slaves in Colombia".

Two Colombians were also arrested in the sweep, Mr Martinez said. Arrest warrants were issued for eight other Israelis suspected of involvement in the child sex ring.

The "mafia" sold tour packages for Israelis with a destination to several Colombian cities that in reality was a front for sex services with minors, Mr Martinez said.

Among those arrested was Israeli alleged gang leader Mor Zohar, and a Colombian police officer said to have helped protect the gang.

The Israeli citizens all have Interpol Red Notices, the closest thing to an international arrest warrant, a statement read.

Officials seized assets belonging to the suspects worth $45 million, including properties used for the ring's activities.

The network was allegedly led by Israeli citizen Benyamin Mush, who has traveled in and out of Colombia and Central American countries, the statement read.

According to testimony obtained from victims, the minors received between $65 and $126 and were forced to belong to a WhatsApp group code-named after the Jewish holiday Purim.

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They were forced to attend drink and drug-fueled parties on yachts with Israeli tourists.

One of the Israelis is also being held in connection with the killing of an Israeli national in Colombia in 2016, which was believed to be an ordered hit after a financial dispute.

According to Israeli media reports, the ring set up hotels and hostels around Colombia to give their operation a front behind which it could operate. They then preyed on girls and boys from troubled backgrounds or who had financial problems to then force them into the illegal work.

One of the suspected ringleaders Assi Ben-Mosh set up a resort hotel that was popular with Israeli soldiers who had left the army and embarked on travel across the world. He and the other suspects are believed to have used proceeds from the ring to buy property and start new companies.

Police arrested 18 people at the Hotel Benjamin in July, accusing them of helping to run a sex ring and coercing girls from Colombia and Venezuela to work for them. They are believed to have recruited more than 200 girls.

The suspects, set to face a judge in the northwestern city of Medellin, face charges that include pimping minors, aggravated homicide, drug trafficking and money laundering.

Updated: December 11, 2018 01:14 PM

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