A Chassidic fundraiser arrested on Dec. 1 in Madrid with unknown drugs in a suitcase is in one of Spain’s more modern prisons, and has access to kosher food and his tefillin, the Spanish consul general in New York confirmed.Fernando Villalonga told Hamodia this week that Eliyahu Hecht, whose family complained last week that he was held under harsh conditions without kosher food or his tefillin, had both within 48 hours of his detention.
“I spoke to the director of the prison and to the medical department,” said Mr. Villalonga. “They knew the person. They told me that everyone who asks for kosher or hallal [food] is given it. He told me that [Eliyahu] is reading his Torah and has his instruments for praying (tefillin) and that he is [getting] kosher [food].”
“They went to a kosher caterer in Madrid to get him kosher food,” he said.
The 57-year-old father of seven, who said that his host in Costa Rica duped him into taking a suitcase with drugs hidden inside, also received his first Jewish visitors since his arrest at a Spanish airport last week.
Rabbi Zev Crombie, director of the Tzefas soup kitchen run by Colel Chabad, told Hamodia that the fundraiser has been working for the charity for the past 10 years and that he is convinced of his innocence.
“He is a very good-hearted person who[se whole] life was devoted to helping people,” Rabbi Crombie said. “He never refuses to help people. He goes [fundraising] all the way around the world to help feed poor people.”
Rabbi Hershel Spalter, director of the Chabad center in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, told Hamodia that the fundraiser had been at his center for a day last week. While he was not familiar with him, he described him as giving the impression of being “a refined man.”
Hecht has elderly parents living in the United States and all his children are unmarried.
He traveled 2 weeks ago to Costa Rica on a weeklong fundraising mission. Arriving in San Jose, the capital of the Central American republic, he spent most of his time at the shul where he met a stranger – a Jewish man whom members of the community said was a regular who came daily to shul and was a shomer Shabbos.
The man gave Hecht a hefty donation and offered him lodging in his home for the duration of his stay. He also took him around to donors to help him gather donations for the soup kitchen, called Eishel Binyamin.
Before Hecht’s scheduled departure to his home in Israel last Wednesday, which included a short stopover in Madrid, his host asked him if he could take a suitcase for delivery to a woman in Madrid.
Although Hecht was slightly suspicious of the suitcase’s contents, his host calmed him down.
“You have nothing to worry about,” he said, telling him to open the valise and check out what was in it.
Hecht opened the suitcase, saw some women’s clothes strewn in it and agreed to take it. He was to go to the main shul in Madrid where a woman would pick it up, he was told.
Arriving at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport last Wednesday, he apparently was stopped and his suitcase was checked. He was stunned to discover “a large quantity” of cocaine hidden within its folds and was arrested, according to Crombie.
Hecht was jailed and then refused access to his tefillin or kosher food. His life is “worse than Gehinnom,” said Crombie, quoting people who had met with the man. “The prisons in Madrid are among the worst in the Western world,” he added.
The powerful crime families in Spain have made the country the European drug capital, so much that the air in some of its cities actually has traces of the substances in it. This has led in the past to periodic crackdowns that have
only temporary successes.
Surprisingly, Hecht was not interrogated yet, something usually done when a suspected smuggler is arrested.
“Things in Spain take a long time,” said Crombie. A “controlled delivery,” a common law enforcement method in the Western world in which a suspected courier is allowed to deliver his illicit goods with the intent to capture the mastermind behind the smuggling, was also not done.
In the meantime, Rabbi Crombie said that Chabad is taking care of Hecht’s family. Legal fees are currently estimated at $50,000.
Please daven for the speedy release of Eliyahu Rachamim ben Rachel.