A Peruvian court has ordered the release of an Israeli woman detained in the country for two years on allegations of attempted drug trafficking, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Hodaya Monsonego, 24, a resident of Hof Ashkelon, was arrested in Lima in 2019 for her alleged involvement in an attempt to smuggle large amounts of cocaine from Peru to Israel. She was jailed in Lima for a year before being returned to house arrest in May 2020, where she has remained since.
Monsonego’s family say she suffers from dementia and was likely exploited by a friend and the friend’s former brother-in-law, who is the alleged mastermind of the operation, Channel 12 reports.
An official release letter has not yet been granted, according to the Ynet news site, but the documents are expected to be approved in the coming days and Monsonego will be able to return to Israel before the Rosh Hashanah vacation next month.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and former President Reuven Rivlin have both been personally involved in efforts to secure Monsonego’s release. Lapid phoned Monsonego on Wednesday evening to share the news.
“During my first week in the office, I appointed a special team to handle the release of Hodaya and worked closely with them. We won’t be celebrating until we see her land in the countryside, but this news has already made me rejoice. For me, protecting and caring for young people with special needs is part of my life, ”Lapid, who has a daughter with special needs, said in a statement.
According to the family, Monsonego’s friend, identified as Smadar Zohar, invited her on a trip abroad and paid for her ticket.
Her siblings, interviewed on Channel 12 last year, said Monsonego was excited to go on the trip and had no suspicion that something was wrong. Monsonego’s brother Ahiya told the TV station he spoke to Zohar before the trip. Zohar explained that she was traveling to Madrid with her sister and nephews and suggested that Monsonego could help with the children, he said.
The siblings said Monsonego communicated with them daily from Madrid and sent them photos of the city.
After a week and a half in Madrid, remembers Monsonego’s sister Tehila, Hodaya told her they were flying to Montana. Tehila asked why they were heading there but did not receive a clear answer. After about a day, Monsonego could not be reached, her sister said.
Monsonego never traveled to the United States, although she believed it was their destination, according to the report. From Madrid, Monsonego, Zohar and his nephews flew to Lima where they stayed for a few days in a hostel before returning to the airport, apparently to return home to Israel.
According to the report, the two adult women and the two children traveled with luggage that appeared to have been recently purchased. Local police officers, who the report said were tracking them down as soon as they arrived in Peru, arrested them after finding a large amount of cocaine in the suitcases.
Monsonego and Zohar were both arrested and the children were sent back to their parents in Israel. It was not immediately clear whether Israeli authorities also intervened on Zohar’s behalf and where she is currently being held.
Monsonego’s siblings said she was easily impressionable and was often exploited by others due to her cognitive disability.
According to the Channel 12 report, the person behind the smuggling operation is Yoni Mellul, Zohar’s former brother-in-law. According to an indictment later filed against him in Israel, Mellul approached Zohar and asked him to travel to Peru to bring back suitcases. He suggested that she bring a friend and be accompanied by her children to avoid arousing suspicion.
Mellul is said to have financed the entire trip and directed the operation from Israel.
Zohar was to return with the suitcases, in which some 20 kilograms of cocaine were hidden.
Mellul has denied the charges against him. According to documents seen by Channel 12, Zohar had visited Peru several times in recent years, including a trip with Mellul.
Monsonego’s family organized a social media campaign in Israel to raise awareness of their sister’s plight, raise funds and pressure the Israeli authorities to secure her release.