French consul worker faces Gaza gun smuggling charges
JERUSALEM – Agence France-Presse
A French consulate worker faced charges yesteday of using an official car to smuggle dozens of guns from the Gaza Strip to the occupied West Bank in a case Israeli authorities called “very severe.”
Israeli officials were quick to note that the worker from France’s Jerusalem consulate acted on his own without his superiors’ knowledge and that diplomatic relations between the two countries were not affected.
But the delicate case comes ahead of a planned visit next week to Israel and the Palestinian territories by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French diplomats are sure to face questions over it.
The arrested French citizen and several Palestinian suspects are accused of belonging to a gun-running network that eventually sold the weapons to arms dealers, Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency said in a statement.
It alleged that Romain Franck, 23, had taken advantage of reduced security checks for consular vehicles to transport the weapons out of the Palestinian enclave.
The Shin Bet said he was motivated by money.
“The consulate employee smuggled the arms on a number of occasions in recent months while using the French consulate’s consular car, which underwent a more lax security inspection at the border crossing, as is the case with this type of car,” the statement said.
“The consulate employee transferred arms on five occasions, during which he transferred some 70 pistols and two automatic rifles.”
A total of nine suspects have been arrested and six were charged in court later yesterday, including Franck.
The statement said the French consulate employee received the guns from a Palestinian in Gaza who worked at the French cultural centre in the strip. He then smuggled them into the West Bank to another person who eventually sold them on to arms dealers, it said.
A spokesman for France’s embassy in Israel said on March 18 that “we take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities.”