Mob lords convicted of arms dealing

Discovery of Uzi in Volkswagen led to arrest of J'lem and Netanya bosses Asi Abutbul and Eli Naim.

abutbul smiling 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
abutbul smiling 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
Two prominent crime lords were convicted of weapons trafficking-related charges in the Jerusalem District Court Tuesday, following a trial in which dozens of taped phone conversations presented by the prosecution offered a rare window into a world where a "shik" is a gun and "the boy" is none other than gang lord Assi Abutbul. A total of 10 members of the Jerusalem-based crime family led by Eli "the Magician" Naim and the Netanya-based family led by Abutbul were convicted on charges including criminal conspiracy, weapons dealing and acquiring weapons, following an operation nicknamed by police "Operation Harry Potter" (presumably after combining "the boy" with "the magician") and a colorful trial that kept court-watchers on their toes. At one point in the trial, Naim lunged at Abutbul's attorney, Moshe Sherman, who also made headlines when Abutbul's brother confronted - and even threatened - the veteran defense attorney. Abutbul himself was accused of threatening the presiding Judge Hanna Ben-Ami, after Ben-Ami expelled the gang leader from the courtroom for raising his voice. Although police detectives originally hoped to convict the key players on a handful of charges, Abutbul managed to escape the most serious charge - weapons dealing - and instead was convicted only for acquiring a weapon. Naim, who was freshly released from prison when the scandal broke in spring 2006, will most likely be returning after being convicted of criminal conspiracy and of acquiring weapons, ammunition and weapons accessories. One of Naim's key lieutenants, Eli Arish, was convicted of assisting in the acquisition of a weapon. Investigators deem it likely that Arish was the probable recipient of at least some of the weapons involved in the deal. Arish has faced at least two attempts on his life following his 2005 release from prison, and is targeted by Naim's rivals in Jerusalem, the Abergil-allied Barmucha family and the Malcha brothers, Sam and Yossi. Police had been listening in on the two crime families' phone conversations for at least weeks in April 2006 when they realized that a major deal was under way between Naim and Abutbul. The tapes presented by the prosecution record over and over the displeasure of the Naim gang over the fact that - despite substantial payments - Abutbul was slow in providing the weapons and explosive charges that they had purchased. After weeks of waiting, police intercepted a vehicle entering Jerusalem, in which they discovered an Uzi submachine gun, ammunition and silencers. The car was driven by Eran Michael, with Shai Abu in the passenger's seat. The two fled when stopped by police but were later apprehended, with Abu quickly agreeing to turn state's witness to build the case against Abutbul and Naim. In addition to the car, police uncovered what they described as a "weapons storehouse" in the Sharon region, containing three 500 gr. TNT charges, three "fingers" of RDX explosives material, an M-16, and a Kalashnikov rifle. Police also found a non-IDF-issue grenade that a source said "came from the east."