Bundles of khat (photo credit: SS BY-SA 3.0, by Abalg, Wikimedia Commons)
Criminals pay travelers to take suitcases full of leaves abroad, but European countries have increasingly been punishing those they catch
Israeli organized crime groups are paying travelers to smuggle khat leaves to European countries, leading to dozens of Israelis being arrested, and some jailed, abroad.
While khat is illegal in most European countries, there are no restrictions on its sale or distribution in Israel and it is frequently used by the country’s Yemenite and Ethiopian communities.
The situation creates a lucrative opportunity for criminals, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.
Since the beginning of the year hundreds of Israelis, many of them young people from poorer backgrounds, have reportedly been paid NIS 2,000-5,000 ($580-$1,440) to take suitcases full of khat abroad.
During that period 73 were arrested and some of them sentenced to prison. Of those detained, 25 were women and eight were minors aged 15-17, the report said said.
Tax authorities and airport police in Israel cannot stop the smugglers from leaving Israel because they have no authority to do so, according to the report.
Sima Duvdevani, head of the Foriegn Ministry’s department for Israelis aboard, told Channel 12 that the smuggling trend is found in almost every European country and that large amounts of khat are involved.
“The number of young people who go and are arrested is increasing,” she said.
Duvdevani said that at first countries would deport those they caught after two weeks, but recently they have been more stern in dealing with offenders.
“Today, we understand that the Europeans aren’t so forgiving of the phenomenon,” she said. “We are talking about more lengthy prison sentences of three or four months, half a year.”
Israelis have been jailed in Britain, France, Germany and other countries.
One Israeli citizen has been sentenced to ten years in prison in Turkey, Duvdevani said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is working with the Economy Ministry to curb the smuggling scheme by issuing an order making khat production illegal.
“As soon as this order is given we can activate law enforcement to deal with those despicable criminals who take advantage of youths from weaker [socieconomic] populations,” Erdan said.
Khat leaves contain two amphetamines, cathinone and cathine. Among the positive effects are a sense of euphoria, increased alertness, and relief from fatigue. However, they also present several health risks, including depression, irritability, increased blood pressure and heart rate, loss of appetite and insomnia.