A 20-year-old Israeli man was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 14,000 euros by a French court a week after he was caught smuggling 40 pounds of khat into the country, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday.
Khat, a narcotic plant native to Africa and the Middle East, is illegal in most European countries but there are no restrictions on its sale or distribution in Israel, creating a lucrative opportunity for criminals.
According to the ministry, over 100 Israelis have been arrested for khat smuggling in Europe over the past year. The ministry warned young people not to attempt to smuggle the plant.
In mid-January, the Foreign Ministry reported that 10 Israelis, three of whom were minors, were arrested in Vienna, Copenhagen, and London with the stimulant drug over the course of one week.
The ministry said at the time that each suspect could be jailed for several months for the offense and that their trials were expected to take place in about two weeks. It added that several of the suspects were on their first trips abroad and were believed to have been hired by Israeli criminals to smuggle the substance.
Israeli consuls in the European countries were following the cases and would provide humanitarian assistance when needed, the Foreign Ministry said.
Hundreds of Israelis, many of them young people from poorer backgrounds, have reportedly been paid NIS 2,000-5,000 ($580-$1,440) to take suitcases full of khat abroad.
Tax authorities and airport police in Israel cannot stop the smugglers from leaving Israel because they have no authority to do so, according to the report.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is working with the Economy Ministry to curb the smuggling scheme by issuing an order making khat production illegal.
“As soon as this order is given we can activate law enforcement to deal with those despicable criminals who take advantage of youths from weaker [socieconomic] populations,” Erdan said.
Khat leaves contain two amphetamines, cathinone and cathine. Among the positive effects are a sense of euphoria, increased alertness, and relief from fatigue. However, they also present several health risks, including depression.