Three young Israeli women were arrested in Paris last week trying to smuggle over 440 lbs. of khat — a plant whose consumption causes a sense of euphoria and is illegal in France.
One of the suspects is TikTok star Chen Elkayam who was arrested in her hotel room after already having completed the drug deal.
In an exclusive interview with Ynet, she recounts transferring the drugs in suitcases, getting arrested and missing a wedding as a result.
Elkayam notes she cannot get into too much detail as her case is still pending.
"I did nothing but transfer the drugs," she says. "I know that French media is also covering this and there are photographers outside the building I'm in. Why is only my picture being put up? What about the rest of the suspects?"
According to French authorities, over eight tons of the drug valued at over a million euros have been smuggled into the country in 50 separate flights over the last eight months. The drugs are intended for East African communities in both France and the Netherlands.
In recent years, many Israelis have been caught attempting to smuggle khat throughout Europe from Israel where it is legal.
"I did nothing wrong. This isn't a date rape drug. I've been branded a drug dealer. I know it's illegal in France but it's just Khat. The hype around this is disproportional."
How did it start?
"A man called me from a blocked number, telling me where to pick up the drugs, and there it was. I don't know the other suspects."
Did he tell you you're smuggling khat?
"He said it's not a big deal because it's legal in Israel. I didn't think it was a big deal either. I see khat being sold in Israel at shopping stands."
How much money were you offered?
"NIS 4,000 ($1,090)."
What happened when you landed in France?
"They told me a taxi would be waiting for me, and there it was. They drove me to the hotel with another girl. After driving into the city, we stopped and I smoked a cigarette. Then a few men came over and picked up the suitcases. As far as I know, that's where the whole thing ended."
While Elkayam had her heart set on enjoying France for a few more days, she was unaware that the gendarmerie, a French military force with law enforcement duties, was already on to her.
"Since I didn't know it was illegal, I didn't think about fleeing France," she says.
Before she went to sleep, she heard knocks on her hotel room door. "I was lighting a candle when they knocked really hard. I heard yelling in French. We thought we were being robbed," she says.
"They came crashing through the window and put us in handcuffs. They wore masks and brought dogs with them. It's like they were arresting terrorists. When we got to the police station, they understood I was in a panic and I don't speak French or English, so they were okay with me. I cooperated fully."
How does it feel now? You can't go back to Israel.
"I'll be in France for a while. The biggest punishment is that I won't be able to attend my sister's wedding. Realizing that crushed me."
Why did you do it?
"I wanted to be able to have fun at my sister's wedding and generally I needed the money. We're not a rich family. I did something hasty and I regret it. I can't wait to get back to Israel so I can tell people exactly what happened."