Source: Independent, The (UK)
Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jul 1998
Author: Paul Lashmar


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

Evidence of the new drugs link follows:

Two Jewish men are to appear British courts on heroin smuggling

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

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"