The extradition of modeling agent Shai Avital, arrested in Amsterdam Thursday over 26 sexual harassment complaints against him in Israel, is likely to be a drawn-out process as the suspect prepares for a legal battle against his deportation.
According to a Channel 13 report Friday, Avital possesses a Portuguese passport, making him a citizen of the European Union. This complicates the effort to transfer him from the custody of authorities in the Netherlands — an EU member state — to Israel.
“Shai Avital will fight for his absolute innocence. He did not flee from Israel. He left legally, he claims innocence and his innocence will be proven,” Avital’s legal representation Shoshi Gaz said on Friday.
Israel’s extradition request to Dutch authorities is based on two allegations of indecent acts out of the 26 complaints against him. However, law enforcement officials claim that they possess strong evidence against the suspect in seven incidents, the Ynet news site reported.
Police and prosecutors were reportedly divided on whether or not to request that Dutch authorities arrest Avital, who was spotted by an Israeli officer in Amsterdam.
While police feared the case against Avital was still too weak and more evidence was needed, prosecutors pushed for the extradition request to be filed with Dutch authorities immediately, according to the report.
The arrest in the Netherlands comes more than a year after police issued an initial arrest warrant for Avital, who represented some of the country’s top models.
An Interpol arrest warrant was issued approximately three months ago, following an intelligence operation to monitor his travels between several European countries, according to police.
Avital was living in Hungary one year ago and was told by Israeli authorities to return to Israel immediately where he would be taken into custody and questioned over the allegations. Despite his lawyers previously saying that he would come to Israel if summoned, he remained overseas.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Avital has also been traveling between Turkey, France, Portugal and Belgium during his time abroad.
Avital was spending time with friends when he was noticed by Yael Reichard, a plain-clothed Israeli police officer posted in the Netherlands, as he left the Korte Leidsedwarsstraat restaurant in Amsterdam.
Reichard followed the suspect for 160 meters to confirm his identity, then contacted Dutch police to arrest him. Though Avital did not resist his arrest, he was “very surprised” that he was taken in, according to one of his lawyers, Sharon Nahari.
Avital will remain in custody at least until a hearing on Monday morning after a court session scheduled for Friday afternoon had to be postponed due to the unavailability of an interpreter, his lawyer said.
Police launched the criminal investigation into Avital in July last year after media reports said that he had harassed multiple former clients and colleagues.
The probe, which is being led by the Tel Aviv Police District’s investigative wing, was opened after Channel 13 news released evidence of Avital sending models threatening messages, including police complaints ready to be submitted if they were to accuse him of sexual abuse.
In leaked text messages, Avital appeared to boast that he has connections with the police, and he was not afraid of any complaints against him.
According to documents released by the network, in 2009 Avital paid NIS 120,000 ($35,000) to model Israela Avtau after he sexually assaulted her in his office. The incident was apparently kept under wraps, and Avital continued his career as an agent.
Sexual messages allegedly sent by Avital to a number of women, including minors, were also shown by the network.
A number of women also claimed Avital exposed himself in front of them, including at least one case that resulted in them having sex afterward, which continued on a regular basis after Avital promised the apparent victim would be featured on a popular reality show.
Other women accused him of forcibly groping, kissing and licking their faces. The allegations date back the past two decades.