Israel charges French consulate employee with smuggling guns for Palestinians
Worker accused of using diplomatic vehicle to bypass checkpoints and move weapons from Gaza to the West Bank
A French consulate worker was charged in an Israeli court with arms smuggling on Monday following his arrest on accusations he transported dozens of guns from the Gaza Strip into the occupied West Bank.
Romain Franck appeared in a court in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba and was remanded until March 28. Five Palestinians were also charged in the same case.
Franck, who is in his early 20s, spoke through an interpreter to confirm his identity during the brief court appearance. Two French diplomats were at the court to monitor the proceedings.
A total of nine people have been arrested in the case.
Held since February 15, Romain Franck is accused of moving a total of 70 pistols and two assault rifles between the Palestinian territories on at least five occasions, the Shin Bet security agency said after a gag order on the case was lifted.
Franck “acted for financial profit, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors”, a Shin Bet statement said. He is not believed to have also had any ideological motives such as support for Palestinian militants, a Shin Bet official said.
“This is a very serious incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign diplomatic missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” the statement said.
A Facebook page under the name Roman Franck with photographs that looked similar to the mugshot published by the Shin Bet, shows images of the young man against desert vistas.
“Feeling good in Palestine,” says one caption.
A January 17 posting said the Facebook account-holder was “travelling to Jerusalem starting to a new adventure”.
A spokesman for the French embassy in Tel Aviv described Franck as “a member of the consulate general in Jerusalem” and said France was taking the case seriously and cooperating with Israeli authorities.
Franck was arrested along with a Palestinian from East Jerusalem employed as a security guard at the consulate as well as seven other suspects, the Shin Bet said.
It accused him of using a consulate-owned vehicle, which enjoyed more cursory Israeli security checks due to its diplomatic status, to move guns from Gaza to Palestinian arms dealers in the West Bank.
According to the Shin Bet statement, Franck received the guns from a Palestinian employed by the French Cultural Centre in Gaza.
Most countries keep their embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv, as well as consulates in Jerusalem that handle diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians.
Israel counts all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status not recognised abroad although the United States, breaking with other world powers, plans to move its embassy in Israel to the city in May.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse