Police say television star Dudu Topaz may have contracted thugs to attack other media executives, in addition to the three assaulted in recent months.
Topaz was arrested Sunday after attacks on TV producer Shira Margalit two weeks ago, the CEO of Channel 2 franchisee Keshet, Avi Nir, in November, and actors' agent Boaz Ben-Zion six months ago.
Topaz's remand was extended yesterday by a judge at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, who called the entertainer the ringleader in a series of violent attacks on TV executives.
Judge Zion Kapah said Topaz stands at the "head of the pyramid - he was the planner, he initiated it."
A police investigator told the court that "the suspect ... is behind the order to attack the complainants. We have evidence that directly links Topaz to the order to carry out the attacks."
Among those whom Topaz allegedly planned to attack are Yisrael Hayom editor Amos Regev, who turned down the comedian's offer to write a personal column in the newspaper.
Elad Kuperman, Topaz's former television producer on Keshet and now producer of the program "Big Brother," was also on the hit list. These two, as well as Reshet CEO Avi Zvi, who rejected Topaz's proposals for a show, were assigned bodyguards by the police in the last few days.
Topaz is suspected of ordering the assault on Margalit after she dismissed his ideas for a television program. Margalit's colleagues among Keshet's senior managers may also be in danger for this reason, police said.
Topaz's neighbor on Tel Aviv's Leah Street, Daniel Zenko, who confessed to hiring Margalit's assailants, pointed to Topaz as the one who contracted him for the job. But the police are still looking for other men Topaz is suspected of hiring to assault additional media figures.
The police now believe that the two who were arrested on suspicion of attacking Margalit two weeks ago are not the men who attacked Ben-Zion in January.
Three months after Ben-Zion was assaulted, Tel Aviv police arrested Roman Aleyev of Ramle and Mohammed Yunis of Ar'ara, who were seen near Ben-Zion's home. A senior police source told Haaretz that Ben-Zion identified the two in a lineup as his assailants but later retracted his statement. The two were released two days later and are still at large.
On Sunday afternoon, a few hours after Topaz and Zenko were arrested, the police reached a breakthrough in the investigation. Zenko, who was arrested in Eilat and taken to Tel Aviv for interrogation, denied his involvement at first. But after detectives showed him evidence linking him and Topaz to the attack, Zenko broke down and admitted to being involved in Margalit's attack. He incriminated Topaz.
"He admitted that Topaz approached him and asked him to put him in touch with men who would attack the media people," a senior police source said. "At that point we realized we had conclusive evidence."
Among the evidence, the police have a recording of a telephone call between Zenko and Topaz shortly after Margalit's attack, in which the two allegedly incriminate themselves. Zenko could not explain where tens of thousands of shekels deposited in his bank account had come from, believed to be payment from Topaz.
However, after meeting his attorneys, Zenko retracted his statement, saying the police used force during the questioning. He said he had been deprived of his right to see an attorney.
Zenko's remand was extended yesterday by four days. The two suspected of attacking Margalit - Ayman Zabidat and Suleiman Hiadra - who were arrested on Saturday night, were remanded to custody until Thursday.
Zenko, 38, was brought into the courtroom with his face covered. Until recently he was employed as a security guard in nightclubs in Tel Aviv, but in the past year was working in Eilat.
The court was crowded at the debate on extending Topaz's remand.
Topaz did not attend the hearing, wishing to avoid the embarrassment of facing the television cameras and reporters in handcuffs, but appeared by video conference from the Abu Kabir detention facility, where he is being held.
"Topaz joined the other suspects and paid them to hurt Avi Nir, Boaz Ben-Zion and Shira Margalit," inspector Yaakov Gatenyo told the court. He said the rumors about Topaz last week had not stopped him from continuing with his plans to attack media executives.
"We also have indications that Topaz had plans to flee Israel, and if he is released he might do so," Gatenyo said.
Topaz's attorney Zion Amir asked the judge to release Topaz to house arrest at his brother's home. But the judge refused.
"The suspicions are settling into solid material. The suspect continued his acts even more intensively after the affair leaked to the media .... This increases the danger posed by the suspect and shows that he could subvert the course of justice and flee from it," the judge said.
Topaz's brother Micki Goldenberg and Shira Margalit's father, Dan Margalit, a commentator for Channel 10 and Yisrael Hayom, came to the courtroom yesterday for the hearing on extending Topaz's remand. Goldenberg approached Margalit and asked about his daughter's health. Margalit replied briefly but avoided a chat.
"If the police arrested the right people, then justice must be carried out without delay. Whoever is behind these attacks must be put behind bars," Margalit told Haaretz.
He said his daughter was recovering from the blows to her face. "The attorney general must decide - if there's nothing there, let him go, but if there is, indict immediately," he said. "Don't mess around with hearings and postponements to enable a wishy-washy plea bargain if his guilt is proved."
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