Luckless Israeli criminal waits 13 years to exit Thai prison only to stay stuck behind bars when airport closes

In 2007, Thai police found Makhlouf in possession of some 23,000 ecstasy pills.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Once sentenced to death in Thailand, Yigal Makhlouf was supposed to fly back to Israel to serve out the remainder of his prison sentence in late January.

But because of Israel’s decision to close Ben Gurion Airport, the 50-year-old Israeli remains behind bars in a Thai prison.

“The decision was made to release my brother and he should have been on a flight about three weeks ago,” Benny Makhlouf told the Mako news site. “But since then, he’s been stuck in prison because there are no Israeli guards to accompany him to Israel.

“Everything is frozen and I am afraid that my brother, who has suffered a lot, will get infected with the coronavirus – which will complicate his medical condition.”

Four security officers from the Israeli Prison Services’ special Nachson Unit were ready to fly to Thailand to escort the Beer Sheba native back to Israel, a source told Mako. But Israel’s full closure of its land, maritime, and air borders has made the mission impossible, and Makhlouf will remain in a Thai prison until further notice.

Local police arrested Makhlouf in 2007 after he was found to be in possession of some 23,000 ecstasy pills. Suspected of being a member of an international criminal syndicate, he was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death – the standard punishment for his crime in Thailand.

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After diplomatic intervention by Israeli government officials, the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej commuted Makhlouf’s sentence to 43 years in prison in 2008.

Makhlouf’s attorneys launched a nearly 13 year court battle for his repatriation, facing multiple rejections from former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, former Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Amir Ohana.

As his medical condition deteriorated, Israel’s Supreme Court finally accepted a petition that Makhlouf should be repatriated on humanitarian grounds in February 2020.

The Court ordered the Justice and Foreign Ministries to ask the Thai government to allow Makhlouf to serve the remainder of his sentence in Israel. The request was granted in early January 2021.

Shortly after his arrest, Makhlouf’s wife gave birth to his daughter, whom he has never met.

Benny Makhlouf said that during a recent call with his family, his brother said he was looking forward to “finally meeting [his] girl, sleeping on a [proper] bed, and eating olives and falafel.”

Due to the number of years Makhlouf has already spent behind bars, it is likely he would serve just a few months in an Israeli prison.

Mako reported that the Foreign Ministry is searching for ways to bring Makhlouf back to Israel. One idea being floated is having him fly aboard a rescue flight intended for Israel-based Thai diplomats.