Source: Independent, The (UK) Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jul 1998 Contact: http://www.independent.co.uk/ Author: Paul Lashmar HEROIN SCANDAL ROCKS LONDON'S DEVOUT JEWISH COMMUNITY The Orthodox Jewish community has been shocked by a series of arrests of its members for alleged heroin smuggling. Police and Customs inquiries are centering on a drugs link between Israel, Antwerp and London. Evidence of the new drugs link follows: Two Jewish men are to appear British courts on heroin smuggling charges. The professional execution on an Antwerp street last week, of a Jewish jeweller and leading figure in the Russian Mafia. A Talmudic scholar accused in Tel Aviv this month of laundering drugs money through his bank account. The north London Orthodox community is remaining tight-lipped about the arrests although it is thought to be severely embarrassed. Several people in the community, who did not want to be named, said that the arrests were causing anger and deep concern. The involvement of Orthodox Jews in hard drugs has echoes of the recent case in New York State where the puritanical Amish sect was torn by the arrest of several younger members for drug dealing. The Orthodox and ultra-orthodox communities of Stamford Hill and Golders Green in north London have a reputation for being largely crime-free. While some members of the Orthodox community have been jailed in the past for large-scale VAT frauds and other white collar crime, it has never been associated with drugs or violent crime. The fact the arrests involve allegations of heroin has proved even more shocking. Police in several European countries began to suspect that the diamond area of Antwerp was becoming an international centre for drug smuggling two years ago when an Orthodox Jewish man from Antwerp was arrested at Ramsgate. Dror Hazenfratz, then 34, from Antwerp, was jailed for 11 years for trying to smuggle heroin. He was arrested by British Customs officers while travelling with his wife and child in the family Peugeot 405. Underneath the child seat in the back Customs officers found 15 kilos of heroin worth UKP750,000. Hazenfratz, who was born in Haifa and holds an Israeli passport as well as a Belgian identity card, appeared in Canterbury court wearing traditional dress and carrying the Talmud. He had made other one-day trips to England. Hazenfratz said he had been told to meet a Georgian Orthodox Jew at a north London hotel. The ultimate destination of the drugs was reputedly David Santini, a Glaswegian who, at the time, was Scotland's leading heroin dealer. In an unrelated raid, Santini was arrested while repacking a UKP1.1m consignment of heroin. He was jailed for 13 years. A senior officer in the case said: "He had massive connections with Britain's underworld and leads to European drug cartels." Following the arrest of Hazenfratz drugs officers began to suspect a new drugs route. The last stopping point for most drugs coming into Britain is the Netherlands, but European police forces are making it more difficult to use that country as a transshipment point. The collapse of Communism has also opened up new smuggling routes through Eastern Europe into London and Antwerp is ideally suited as a drugs centre. At the end of June British Customs arrested a 19-year-old man from Antwerp in Dover with 10 kilos of heroin allegedly concealed in his hire car. He is awaiting trial. Shortly before an older man had been arrested at Coquelles at the French entrance to the Channel Tunnel. British Customs allegedly found quantities of heroin and cocaine. The man was an American Orthodox Jew living in Stamford Hill. British drugs officers suspect they are seeing the beginning of a new drug operation involving Antwerp's Orthodox Jews and the Russian Mafia. The Orthodox community has been a major player in the diamond and precious metal market. Antwerp has the largest diamond centre in the world. Other centres of the diamond business are Tel Aviv and Hatton Garden, London. Antwerp's Orthodox community is close knitted but cosmopolitan with close links with similar communities in Israel, London, New York and Eastern Europe. It is an Askenazi community which originated mainly from East Europe. However, over the past two years the diamond business has taken a downturn for the small trader and the trade has moved mainly into the hands of big corporations such as DeBeers. In addition, last year, police made a series of raids of diamond businesses suspected of tax evasion and money laundering. According to one Customs source, smuggling diamonds from Antwerp to London's Hatton Garden has been on for many years. This expertise in smuggling has now been turned to a more sinister trade. The Russian Mafia has made Antwerp a centre of its operations and has been able to use the expertise of a community that has fallen on hard times. Last week, evidence of the violence associated with drug crime surfaced again in Antwerp. A Jewish trader in precious metals in the city, Rachmeil "Mike" Brandwain, also reputed to be a leading figure in the Russian Mafia, was shot dead. Underworld gossip has it that he had informed on another leading figure in the Russian Mafia who had been arrested in New York. In the 1980s Brandwain had sold gold that was smuggled into Britain for a VAT fraud being run in Hatton Garden. A Customs operation codenamed "Operation Fiddler" arrested a number of men in London. Brantwain was also suspected to be a cocaine dealer. Earlier this month in Tel Aviv, three British drugs officers were in court to see an Israeli man charged with laundering money from an international drugs ring. According to local police, the British officers were from MI6 - the remit of the overseas arm of British intelligence was extended to cover international drug smuggling. Israel Aron Albam, a 38-year-old Talmudic scholar, married with eight children, was released on a bail of 8m shekels (around UKP1.3m). The Tel Aviv court was told that British authorities had been involved with the seizure of two boatloads of drugs, the first in 1992 with two tonnes of cocaine and one tonne of cocaine. The shipments originated from Columbia and were heading for Holland. The second boat was seized in Portugal and a British citizen known only as "John" was arrested. He claimed that Albam had given him UKP48,000 to pay for the yacht. The court was told that a number of men are held by the British authorities in connection with the smuggling ring. Albam is an Askenazi of the large Vishmitz sect. Police inquiries revealed that Albam was on a Israeli government grant for poor scholars to study the Talmud at the Yeshiva (theology college). He had travelled to New York and London, apparently collecting money for charity. However, Israeli police found 400m shekels (UKP66m) in his bank account. The account was in the Israeli religious bank which is tax exempt. Albam admitted that he ran "a private bank" but claims that he did the laundering only for the charedim (the Orthodox). He has denied any connection with drugs dealings. - --- Checked-by: "Rich O'Grady"