Disabled Israeli accused of drug trafficking freed by Peruvian court, ending 2-year saga

Monsengo’s family said that she has an intellectual disability and could not have agreed to smuggle 28 kilograms of cocaine from Peru to Israel.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

An Israeli woman who was arrested on drug trafficking charges and imprisoned in Peru was released by a judge on Wednesday, marking the end of a two year saga which saw the involvement of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and former president Reuven Rivlin.

Hodaya Monsengo, who was on house arrest in the South American country after serving several months in a corrections facility, is expected to touch down in Israel before the Rosh HaShana holiday in the first week of September.

In August 2019, Monsengo was arrested at Lima International Airport alongside a friend, Smadar Zohar. The two young women were found with 28 kilograms of cocaine in their luggage, with a street value totaling tens of millions of dollars.

Monsengo’s family said that she has an intellectual disability and was the victim of a complicated scheme, linked to the Petach Tivkah-based ex-brother-in-law of her friend.

“We have to imagine that a 12-year-old girl is in jail now. She’s not really 24,” her sister, Tehila, told N12 in March 2020.

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Maor Monsengo, Hodaya’s brother, told Radio 103 FM on Wednesday that she was used by acquaintances who recognized that her cognitive impairment made her naive and trusting.

“Her friend saw that she was [child-like] and took advantage of that,” he argued.

He added that in the time that his sister has been on house arrest, she has been officially diagnosed as intellectually disabled by a psychologist, proving that she does not have the capacity to engage in criminal behavior.

“All this… made the judge understand that Hodaya is not an ordinary girl, [and] there is no chance she could consciously choose to get into such a situation,” he said.

Lapid released a video about Monsengo’s upcoming return to Israel, saying it was the culmination of years of hard work by the Foreign Ministry.

“During my first week in office, I created a special team to secure Hodaya’s release and worked closely with them,” he said.

“We will not celebrate before we see her land in the country, but it is already allowed to rejoice a little.”

Noting that his daughter has autism, Lapid added that “protecting and caring for young people with special needs is part of my life’s mission.”

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In March 2020, then-President Rivlin directly appealed to Peru’s president, asking for a full pardon for Monsengo.

“Taking into account these severe humanitarian circumstances, we are deeply concerned about Hodaya’s mental and physical safety, especially in light of her prolonged detention and distance from her family,” Rivlin wrote at the time.

“Under these unique circumstances, I would kindly appeal to your mercy and compassion with a request for your personal intervention to grant Ms. Hodaya Monsonego a pardon.”

In January 2020, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured the release of Na’ama Issachar, an Israeli who was sentenced to years in Russian prison for transiting through Sheremetyevo International Airport with a few grams of marijuana in her backpack.

Just one month prior, the State of Israel transferred ownership of the Alexandrov Compound, near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, to the Russian Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.

It’s widely believed that the decision to release Issachar was predicated on the transfer of the property.