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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli Police: Russian Mafia Is Infiltrating

TEL AVIV, Israel -- The Russian mafia is using Israel as a major operating and money-laundering center, and dozens of mafia groups have members living in the country, Israel's police chief said.

Assaf Hefetz said Wednesday the mafia has invested some $4 billion in Israeli banks and firms in recent years.

He said organized crime was exploiting mass immigration -- some 600,000 people from the former Soviet Union have moved to Israel since 1989 -- as well as liberal money-transfer regulations aimed at attracting immigrants and investment.

While the Russian mafia also operates in Germany, Italy and the United States, Israel "absorbs some of the largest amounts of money," Hefetz said, adding that Russian officials had provided the police with some information on Israeli companies involved.

Hefetz said an unspecified number of mafia operatives have come to the country as immigrants.

Last month Police Minister Moshe Shahal said Russian crime bosses -- apparently attracted by the linguistic comfort of Russian-language dailies, television and cultural events -- have used luxury hotels in Israel for business meetings.

Several weeks ago, police arrested a Russian immigrant as a suspect in the apparent murder-for-hire of two other immigrants.

Police believe the beheadings of the two victims were ordered by the Moscow mafia.

There are also reports the mafia is using the country as a way station for rings involved in drug smuggling, prostitution and other rackets.

Although few of the crimes are known to be committed in Israel, Hefetz said that unless curtailed, the mafia would eventually expand to domestic crime and might even try to buy influence over Israeli politicians.

"They enter political parties and get to powerful people,'' Hefetz said.