El Al exec who ‘thought he was smuggling gold’ from South Africa gets 12-year cocaine sentence

Business Insider SA
An El Al plane is pushed into position on a Berlin runway. (File photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images)
An El Al plane is pushed into position on a Berlin runway. (File photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images)

  • An Israeli court has sentenced former El Al security executive Rami Yogev to 12 years.
  • Yogev says he thought he was helping smuggle gold from South Africa, when he accepted $10,000 per suitcase to ensure a smooth ride for three packages.
  • He was, in fact, helping move at least 54kg of cocaine into Israel, as part of a smuggling operation the court described as one of the country's worst ever.
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Rami Yogev, a former executive at Israel's flag-carrier airline El Al, has been sentenced to 12 years by a Tel Aviv court, for his part in a smuggling operation that transported large batches of cocaine from South Africa to Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported. 

Yogev said he thought he was helping to smuggle gold from South Africa when he accepted $10,000 (about R170,000) per suitcase to make sure three suitcases bypassed security checks at Ben Gurion International Airport.

He was also handed 24 months of additional probation, the Times of Israel reported, in what the court described as "one of the most serious drug incidents the country has ever known". In a plea bargain, Yogev admitted to turning a blind eye to the possibility that he was helping transport drugs.

The suitcases were smuggled past airport security at OR Tambo in Johannesburg, and onto El Al flights as hand luggage. At Ben Gurion, a courier handed the suitcases to Yogev as soon as the plane landed, and he walked them past security checks.

Yogev was convicted on three charges of moving 18kg of cocaine at a time, but the broader smuggling network transported at least 150gk of cocaine from South Africa to Israel, authorities there say. They believe that would have earned some R225 million at street-value prices.

The smuggling operation was exposed in November 2019, when one of the shipments was detected at Ben Gurion. 

That saw the arrest of Yogev alongside a high-ranking official of the Shin Bet security service, and an employee of the Israeli military, among a group of 14 suspects.

One of the accused smugglers, Shai Alon, was arrested in South Africa in April last year

South Africa is geographically attractive as a drug transit point, according to the United Nations Office For Drug Control and Crime Prevention, and smugglers find useful its combination of good transport and communications infrastructure with porous northern borders.

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