Academic’s accused killer ‘hatched murder plot’
BEFORE Australian professor Lily Pereg and her sister Pyrhia Sarusi arrived in Argentina, the man accused of their murder allegedly booked a one-way flight to Rome for himself and four cats.
The prosecutions office has confirmed that Gilad 'Nicolas' Pereg's charge over the death of the Australian academic would be upgraded to aggravated homicide by use of firearm after ballistics confirmed the gun used to kill her was his.
He was already facing aggravated homicide for killing his mother. The upgrade automatically means a mandatory trial by jury.
Gilad Pereg planned on flying to Italy just three days after his family came to visit his Mendoza home, according to investigators.
The detail comes as a local gunsmith claimed he had warned authorities months ago about the former Israeli soldier and engineer who would visit his shop to buy multiple weapons and detail how he did not get on with his family.
Pereg previously bought and stored legally registered firearms at gun stores in Mendoza, including the El Tirolés Gunshop where he was pictured on CCTV footage with dreadlocks and a beard.
In a wide-ranging interview, Prosecutor Claudia Rios outlined the final moments of the sisters.
Rios said Pereg had a flight booked to Rome departing on Monday, January 14, but that he cancelled it that day. It was the same day he reported his mother and aunt missing. He also filed a police report for stolen firearms.
When asked why he would book a flight to Rome when his mother and aunt were planning to visit, Pereg allegedly responded that he didn't think they would come to Argentina.
Police said Pereg invited his mother, Pyrhia, to come visit, while his aunt, Lily, joined so that she wouldn't be alone.
Within a day of arriving, both walked into what investigators now allege was a premeditated homicide.
Autopsy results released on Wednesday identified Lily, a University of New England professor, as the victim of three gunshot wounds to the chest from a Taurus 38 Special handgun revolver. Additional analysis is required to determine the exact cause of death of her Israeli sister.
Police allege a bullet lodged Lily's lung matched with one of the three guns found at the property.
Authorities also watched Pereg as he visited an international bus terminal and was asking about prices.
Police have also spoken with the El Tiroles armoury shop owner Aldo Chesi who told local media Pereg had all the up-to-date permits to be a weapons owner which included a lack of criminal record and psychological checks.
But his appearance rang alarm bells and he put authorities on alert about his repeated visits including during one where Pereg allegedly said he did not get on with his family. New CCTV images from the shop show his dishevelled state when he would buy weapons before his sudden appearance change prior to the murders.
Even after the women disappeared and police seized Pereg's arsenal of weapons as he became a suspect for the murders, he had returned to the shop to buy another weapon.
"I have trusted people in the government, and a while ago I had informed them about this boy," El Tiroles armoury shop owner Aldo Chesi said.
"It is my duty to always warn, even if they come with the papers in order. I did it with him and many more."
More detail has emerged about Pereg's hermit lifestyle and isolation. Jewish Community Board president Pablo Stern said that Pereg was a complete unknown in the city.
"The whole Jewish community in Mendoza was rallying to help find these two Israeli women that had gone missing. When we found out [that they were killed], we were of course shocked because that kind of thing just doesn't happen here," Mr Stern said.
While Pereg didn't have any friends and kept to himself, allegedly paranoid for his safety and locked behind his compound gates, Nancy Diaz, the director of Guaymallen Cemetery, said she always tried to be kind.
Pereg would go to the cemetery across the road from his home regularly for fresh drinking water, as he was living among squalid conditions on his empty lot.
"Everyone knew this guy in the neighbourhood ... he looked homeless and always had a bad aspect, so everyone tried to avoid him," Ms Diaz said via an interpreter.
"Sometimes it looked like he had a badly infected leg. Other times I would hear screaming from (the) property. And soccer fields he was trying to turn into a business haven't changed since I started working here in 2015. But I would always try to say hello and be kind to him, so he always responded to me in a good manner also.
"The last time I saw him on Friday last week, he had a new haircut and I tried to say hello, but he kept walking and said 'I'm in a rush. I'm in a rush'."
The brother of Lily and Pyrhia, Moshe Pereg, told an Israeli press conference that his nephew lived like a homeless man and raised cats, but was once a genius.
"He always was an excellent student, and got both his undergraduate and master's degrees from the Technion [Israel Institute of Technology]," Moshe Pereg told reporters.
After the mental breakdown, Moshe Pereg said his nephew turned to online gambling, racking up significant debt and leaving Israel for Argentina to escape the financial pressures.