A Brazilian tourist who came to Israel on an organized Christian pilgrimage last week brought a little extra in her luggage – 24 kilos of cocaine packed in bricks inside two suitcases, with an Israeli street value in the millions of shekels.
The case went public on Sunday, when the tourist – 38-year-old Nesiment Elankar – was brought for her second remand extension at the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court.
Central District Police said the woman was first spotted and arrested last Wednesday night by detectives at Ben-Gurion International Airport who then searched her phone and found WhatsApp messages sent between her and a 72-year-old Israeli man they say was meant to pick up the shipment.
Police said the woman then agreed to cooperate with detectives, who had her arrange the meeting with her contact, 72-year-old Shmuel Burnstein of Tel Aviv. The next night the woman was with her tour group at a hotel next to the Sea of Galilee in Tiberias. After arriving at the hotel, Elankar texted Burnstein. After arriving at the hotel and meeting with Elankar, Burnstein was arrested by detectives from the Central District.
Burnstein was taken for questioning and on Friday his remand was extended until Tuesday. Police are currently still working to determine if there are further accomplices who can be brought in to face charges.
During the first hearing at the Petach Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Friday, Burnstein’s attorney Yossi Tzitiati said his client told him he has a son who is in Bolivia who told him to go pick up something from a woman in Tiberias. He said his client had no idea what was in the suitcase, nor did his son tell him anything about who he was meeting. Police disputed that version of events in court, with a detective saying that text messages sent between Burnstein and his son “showed that he was talking to his son and was aware of what he was doing.”
The officer also said the son had served time in prison and appeared to be trying to put the blame on his father.
Before the meeting, police said Burnstein had been in touch by text with his son for three straight days, and that his son told him exactly what to do and the danger involved. Police said that when Burnstein showed up to meet Elankar, he came without a car, and was carrying three cellphones and a spare SIM card. He also kissed Elankar on both cheeks when saying hi to her at a café, where they sat for coffee before police moved in for the arrest.
The 72-year-old Burnstein has no criminal record and according to his attorney, he has lived many years outside of Israel, and is only in the country now to take care of his ex-wife, who is suffering from an illness. Burnstein also addressed the court during his hearing, saying that he makes far more money doing contracting work for a series of European companies and would not take such a risk. He added that “a Brazilian woman who comes on a Christian pilgrimage to the holy land carrying two big suitcases is messed up in the head and the person who sent her is even more so.”
Sold in Israel for NIS 500 or more per gram, cocaine is highly profitable for smugglers. While large shipments have been smuggled in the past on container ships and by other means, 24 kilos is quite a large amount for an individual smuggler to carry in their luggage, and a spokesman for the Central District said Sunday they estimated the street value of the cocaine to be as high as NIS 30 million, though earlier they put the value at a more modest NIS 12 million.
The Jerusalem Post/Nov. 8, 2015
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