Colombia deports Israeli accused of promoting sex tourism

BOGOTA, Colombia — An Israeli man built a Latin American network of hostels that provided drugs and prostitutes for backpackers, a Colombian official said Monday after the suspect was deported.

Assi Moosh was deported Sunday after being arrested in the Caribbean beach resort city of Santa Marta, not far from where he operated a fortress-like hotel known for throwing loud parties for tourists, the official said.

The official said investigators believe Moosh also ran hostels in six other nations, including Costa Rica, Brazil and Mexico, and allege he operated a foundation that promised to help underprivileged children but in fact was used as a tool to recruit them into prostitution.

The official, who agreed to give details only if granted anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the case, said Moosh is the father of three Colombian children and had recently applied for Colombian citizenship.

He was detained after being summoned by authorities to answer questions related to his application. He arrived at the appointment in a bullet-proof truck and was believed to have had more than a dozen bodyguards waiting for him in the vehicle, the official said.

A statement from Colombia's migration office said only that Moosh was deported under a decree that allows the Andean nation to deport foreigners who threaten security, public order and "social tranquility."

In Taganga, a fishing village that has become a popular destination for backpackers, Moosh's Hotel Benjamin was known as "Little Israel," in part because it seemed to attract many Israeli tourists. The eggshell-yellow building offers guests sparse rooms with little more than a bed, all facing toward a pool in the hotel's center for as little as $10 a night.

"Benjamin is at the heart of a fun time," the hotel's website proclaims.

Francisco Martinez, owner of a restaurant in Taganga who has known Moosh for four years, said that he didn't know the Israeli to be involved in drugs or sex tourism, but that prostitution is common at hotels in the area.

"The problem isn't any single person," he said. "It's a community issue."

Tourism to Colombia has increased in recent years, with more than 2.5 million foreigners visiting the nation in 2016, a 13 percent increase. Colombian officials are hoping those numbers will continue to rise following last year's peace agreement with leftist rebels and have been investing resources in highlighting the country's historic treasures and ecotourism.

Still, many foreigners come to Colombia seeking easy access to drugs and prostitution. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation remain major problems. According to government statistics, there were more than 200 reported cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children in 2016.

Officials in Israel declined to comment on the case, though a local newspaper reported in 2003 that Moosh was one of 14 Israelis arrested on suspicion of being part of an international drug smuggling ring. Moosh was alleged to be the head of the ring, which smuggled ecstasy and cocaine.

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