An Israeli national suspected of ties to Japanese and Israeli mafia groups is accused of drug trafficking and money laundering in Colombia, in a case that reveals further details about the logistical role foreign brokers play in the country's criminal circles.
In December, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of Gabriel Kenigsberger in the trendy Chapinero neighborhood of Bogotá. Two months prior, Kenigsberger was convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison by a Colombian court, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office.
During his more than two decades living in Bogotá, he negotiated to buy cocaine from Colombia’s Oficina de Envigado, a conglomerate of criminal groups that largely controls Medellin's underworld, according to a video statement by anti-organized crime prosecutor Javier García Trochez. Kenigsberger then coordinated the movement of the cocaine to European crime syndicates, Japanese Yakuza groups and Israel’s so-called "Jerusalem Mafia."
SEE ALSO: Oficina de Envigado Profile
Kenigsberger faces criminal proceedings outside Colombia as well, including in Israel and in the Netherlands. In 1998, he was convicted in absentia in France for being part of an international drug trafficking syndicate and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The network smuggled cocaine, and other drugs, to Europe using contacts in Colombia and Ecuador.
Kenigsberger is also under investigation for his alleged participation in sexual exploitation and procurement, including of minors, through illegal sex tourism. Prosecutors did not mention the investigation upon his arrest. But Kenigsberger reportedly has ties to the Casa Iftach hostel in Bogotá, which has for years been under investigation for suspected drug retail and sex tourism aimed at Israeli men visiting Colombia, according to a 2018 article by El Tiempo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Gabriel Kenigsberger has long served as an alleged criminal broker -- someone involved in an array of illegal activities and able to connect crime syndicates in far-flung countries.
Kenigsberger was first arrested in 1998 in his Bogotá apartment after the French government asked to have him extradited on major drug trafficking charges, including for crimes committed in Colombia. He managed, however, not just to avoid extradition but to regain his freedom and carry on living in the country.
Later, in the 2010s, he became involved with another suspected Israeli drug trafficker, Assi Moosh Ben Mush. Ben Mush’s story is remarkably similar. He was arrested in 2003 in the Netherlands on charges of leading an international drug syndicate that imported cocaine to Europe from Brazil and Peru, as well as exporting Dutch ecstasy to East Asia using Japanese connections. He fled to Colombia in 2009.
Colombian police began investigating Ben Mush after the 2016 killing of another Israeli national in Medellín, according to a news release by the Attorney General’s Office. By 2018, prosecutors had uncovered extensive human trafficking, drug and prostitution networks operating out of tourist establishments in Santa Marta, Medellín, Cartagena and Bogotá. Six Israelis and two Colombians were arrested, while eight more Israelis were placed on Interpol Red Notices. Though he had close ties to Ben Mush and owned another hostel being investigated for similar crimes, Kenigsberger was not charged in the case.
On the trafficking front, Kenigsberger defied conventional activity. Instead of negotiating cocaine shipments in the coca-covered, mountainous departments of Nariño or North Santander, where wholesale prices would be cheapest, he arranged drug deals from the comfort of Bogotá, mostly for the Medellín-based Oficina de Envigado, according to the charges against him.
Relationships between Colombian and Israeli organized crime groups date back to at least 1998, when an Israeli crime syndicate was discovered laundering Cali Cartel drug money. Elsewhere in Latin America, criminals with ties to Israeli groups have been arrested or killed in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Panama. In July 2019, the assassination of two high-level Israeli capos in Mexico City led Minister of Public Security Alfonso Durazo Montaño to emphasize the tight links between Israeli and Mexican criminal groups.