Israel orders suspected French arms trafficker to be held through trial
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Israel orders suspected French arms trafficker to be held through trial

Consulate employee accused of taking money to help smuggle weapons from Gaza to West Bank, utilizing reduced security for consular vehicles

French national Romain Franck (R), 24, a worker at the French consulate, and Palestinians Moufak al-Ajluni (L) and Mohamed Katout (C) appear in court in the Israeli city of Haifa on March 19, 2018, to face charges of smuggling guns from Gaza (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
French national Romain Franck (R), 24, a worker at the French consulate, and Palestinians Moufak al-Ajluni (L) and Mohamed Katout (C) appear in court in the Israeli city of Haifa on March 19, 2018, to face charges of smuggling guns from Gaza (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

A French consulate worker charged with smuggling arms from Gaza to the West Bank will remain in custody throughout his trial, an Israeli court ruled Sunday.

Romain Franck, a French citizen, was charged last month along with several Palestinian suspects with belonging to a gun-running network that sold the weapons to arms dealers between November and February.

According to prosecutors, Franck took advantage of reduced security checks for consular vehicles to transport the weapons out of the Palestinian enclave.

The Shin Bet security service said Franck was motivated by money, with the indictment alleging he was paid a total of around $5,500.

He allegedly made five smuggling runs, bringing 70 pistols and two assault rifles to the West Bank from a Palestinian employee at the French Cultural Center in Gaza, Zuheir Abed Abdeen. A contact in the West Bank then sold the weapons to other arms dealers, investigators say.

Employee of the French consulate in Jerusalem, Romain Franck, who is accused by Israel of running guns from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. (Shin Bet)

Franck was already transporting various valuables in his car on behalf of Abdeen when in September 2017 the Palestinian propositioned him to join a gun-running ring run by Gaza resident Mahmad Jamil al-Haladi, the indictment said.

Franck later brought Mahmad Siad, an Israeli citizen employed at the French consulate in Jerusalem, into the operation and the two would allegedly travel together to deliver the weapons in the West Bank.

Prosecutors say Franck would usually take delivery of the guns from Aabdin and then place them in the trunk of his vehicle. At the border checks, he would then falsely declare that all of the bags belonged to him or his passengers and that he was not carrying any weapons.

At the Beersheba district court on Sunday, Judge Nasir Abu Taha ordered that Franck remain in custody for the duration of his trial, after his attorney, Abed Abu Amir, agreed there was “alleged evidence” against his client, court documents read.

Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Abu Amir said Franck was being kept in custody because he could not meet the conditions for house arrest: two guarantors staying with him around the clock.

“We have one person and he can’t stay with him all the time,” he said. “We hope soon to find another guarantor and we can bail him out.”

Abu Amir said prosecutors had yet to share all their material with the defense but so far had produced no physical evidence.

Their case, he said, was “based on a confession given by him and the Palestinian guys who were arrested.”

“They didn’t recover even one single bullet,” Abu Amir said. “There is no gun, no nothing.”

Those entering and exiting the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing with Israel undergo strict security checks by Israeli authorities, but these measures are eased for diplomatic visitors.

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