(Miami Herald) Colombia’s booming tourism industry has a dark underbelly. Authorities say they’ve broken up an “Israeli mafia” that allegedly promoted drug-fueled parties and sex with minors to international tourists.
In a series of raids, Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez said authorities had detained eight people, including six Israelis and two Colombians. Among those arrested were Mor Zohar, described as an Israeli ringleader, and a Colombian policeman who was accused of passing confidential information to the group. Arrest warrants have been issued for another eight Israelis.
Authorities also seized almost $50 million in assets and property from the organization, including hotels in Santa Marta, Cartagena, Medellín and the capital, Bogotá.
Martínez said the suspects offered tourism packages largely aimed at Israeli businessmen and Israeli nationals who had recently finished mandatory military service. The tours included stays at hotels, haciendas and yachts, and featured drugs, music and sex with underage girls and adolescents.
The bust, announced late Sunday, shines a light on the seedier side of Colombia’s growing tourism industry.
Prostitution among consenting adults is legal in Colombia, and cities including Cartagena and Medellín have become hotbeds for such encounters. In 2012, more than a dozen U.S. Secret Service agents and members of the armed forces were sanctioned for soliciting prostitutes in Cartagena as they were supposed to be preparing for the arrival of President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas.
But Martínez said the Israeli gang went far beyond the law, and was “responsible for the exploitation and sexual slavery” of girls and women.
Authorities accuse the group of actively recruiting poor schoolchildren and women from broken homes as they built a network of sex workers. The women were typically paid between $70 and $120 for their services. The gang plowed its profits back into real estate and other legitimate businesses.