Eight Israelis were arrested in Colombia on suspicion of drug trafficking, money laundering and exploitation of minors, the country’s chief prosecutor told local media outlets on Tuesday.
The suspects, who were described in the reports as "former military men," reside in the city of Taganga. According to one of the reports, they are suspected of sexually exploiting teenage girls.
As part of a separate investigation, the suspects are also being questioned about their ties to a local drug trafficking ring.
The chief prosecutor noted that the Israeli men were under surveillance during the past year, after arousing the suspicion of local police officers and community leaders.
One of the reports claimed that police obtained tape recordings, some in Hebrew, which might incriminate the suspects.
The suspects denied the allegations, claiming that they were legitimate businessmen.
In January 2011, Colombia asked Israel to extradite former Israeli army Lt. Col. Yair Klein, who was convicted by a Colombian court and sentenced in absentia to nearly 11 years in prison for training drug-traffickers’ assassins in the late 1980s.
Klein was convicted in Colombia of criminal conspiracy in 2001 for organizing training by Israeli mercenaries in "military tactics and techniques" including bomb-making for gunmen employed by ranchers and drug traffickers.
Some of the trainees would go on to commit some of Colombia’s most heinous massacres.
As well, US and British investigations determined two decades ago that Klein was also involved in smuggling 400 Galil assault rifles and 100 Uzi submachine guns bought from Israeli into Colombia in 1989 when his plans to create a mercenary-ran training camp on the Caribbean island of Antigua unraveled.
Arrested in Moscow in 2007, Klein spent three years in a Moscow prison on a Colombian extradition request before being freed in November 2010 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Colombia could not guarantee his physical safety owing to his poor human rights record.