Francois Abutbul - Nir Keidar
Alleged underworld kingpin Francois Abutbul, shown in 2008, was released from prison a few weeks ago. Photo by Nir Keidar
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Four alleged organized crime figures were arrested yesterday on suspicion of planning to murder Francois Abutbul, who is said to be an underworld kingpin.

Policemen from the National Serious and International Crimes Division and from the Tel Aviv Central Unit arrested Shalom Domrani, Ricco Shirazi and Izzat Hamed - one of Jaffa's leading crime figures - along with an unnamed person, on suspicion of planning a hit on Abutbul, who was released from prison a few weeks ago.

The four will be brought before the Rishon Letzion Magistrates Court for a remand hearing this morning.

Abutbul told Channel 2 that Domrani and Shirazi are his friends, and had been arrested "for no reason." Police are trying to discover whether, during a recent meeting between Domrani, Shirazi and Hamed in a Netanya coffee shop, a plot may have been hatched to assassinate Abutbul. The suspects were put under surveillance, and Saturday night police received intelligence that a hit on Abutbul was in the offing.

The authorities warned Abutbul when he left prison that his life was in danger. He was released at the end of December after serving 22 months for assaulting his wife. He was released quietly, very early in the morning, after the Israel Prisons Service heard there was a plan to attack him as he left prison.

Sources close to the Abutbul family said Francois had been told by underworld figures he had two weeks to leave the country. During the time he was in prison, criminal elements had apparently attempted to weaken his status by stealing his property, setting fire to a restaurant he owns and throwing grenades at this home and other businesses. Since the arrest of Abutbul crime boss Asi Abutbul, the family has been going downhill. Police say the Netanya street is now under the control of Ricco Shirazi, and that the latter has no intention of allowing Abutbul to regain a foothold in the city.

Police believe Shirazi linked up with Domrani, a leading crime figure in southern Israel and other known criminals, in an effort to get rid of Abutbul.

When they were younger, Shirazi and Asi Abutbul were good friends. In the 1990s, Shirazi and another man, Moshe Sharvit, were arrested for the murder of Moshe David, a leading Netanya crime figure. Shirazi was released after serving five years. He earned Felix Abutbul's admiration and was given a free hand in Netanya's underworld.

In 2002, after the killing of Felix Abutbul in his casino in Prague - and after the collapse of the Trade Bank following the Eti Alon embezzlement affair had changed Israel's underworld - Shirazi reportedly realized he had to make new alliances. Asi Abutbul, who took over from his father Felix, was reportedly insulted, leading to bad blood between Shirazi and Abutbul. Shirazi was also apparently better at controlling his business interests than Abutbul.

In 2006, Asi Abutbul was arrested in Jerusalem for weapons trafficking and Shirazi paid his bail. Still, the two remained at odds. When Shirazi's son went into the family business, he also made new alliances that excluded Asi Abutbul. With the rivalry at its height, Shirazi ostensibly wants make sure that Abutbul's organization does not regroup now that he is out of jail.