Pubdate: Fri, 03 Aug 2001
Source: The Herald-Sun (NC)
Copyright: 2001 The Herald-Sun


BARCELONA, Spain -- Police have broken up a global Ecstasy smuggling 
ring based here, arresting 23 people around the world in the 
culmination of a yearlong international investigation, authorities 
said Thursday.

Since May, authorities in Spain, the United States, Holland, Canada 
and Australia have seized a quarter-million Ecstasy pills linked to 
the ring. This week, the authorities rounded up the people suspected 
of running the operation, including 11 Israelis, six Spaniards, and 
two Moroccans.

The investigation, called "Operation Israel," was launched about a 
year ago after Barcelona police noticed a group of Israelis with no 
obvious sources of income living extravagantly in local resorts.

When alleged ringleader Oded Twito was arrested in May on a U.S. 
extradition warrant, he provided information about the operation that 
led to the new arrests, police said.

 From Barcelona, the group directed the production of pills at 
clandestine labs in the Netherlands for shipment to users in the 
United States, Australia and Israel, police said. Profits were 
funneled back to Israel, where they were laundered in real estate 

The ringleaders thought they were safe because they were far from 
their activities, police spokeswoman Vanesa Ariet said.

Drug enforcement agents told Barcelona's La Vanguardia newspaper the 
smuggling ring used elderly people as couriers to help avoid 
suspicion at border checks. Police would not give a figure but the 
newspaper said the ring distributed 1 million pills a year.

Ecstasy generally has a street value in the United States of between 
$20 to $40 per pill.

Ecstasy, a synthetic psychoactive drug also known as MDMA, became 
popular at late-night parties known as "raves," and its use has since 
spread. U.S. Customs Service seizures have risen from about 400,000 
pills in 1997 to more than 9 million in 2000.

The drug typically induces feelings of euphoria and dramatically 
raises blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

The Barcelona ring was one of the main networks supplying the U.S. 
market, authorities said.

The 10 suspects arrested in Spain include Michel Elkaiam, who police 
said was Twito's right-hand man, and the rest of the ring leadership.

Spanish police said seven people associated with the operation were 
arrested in the United States after the seizure of thousands of pills 
in Miami.

"Operation Israel" was coordinated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration and Customs Service, and police in Israel, Germany, 
Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.
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