A Tel Aviv lawyer is the prime suspect in at least two attempted murders and an arson that were allegedly carried out by a Jaffa gang he controlled.
Gur Finkelstein was arrested several weeks ago, but details of the investigation were released for publication only yesterday.
Among the crimes Finkelstein has been linked to is the attempted murder in Haifa last November of Danny Cohen, the current husband of Finkelstein's ex-wife, in an apparent attempt to gain custody of his and his ex's 11-year-old son.
Finkelstein is also alleged to have commissioned a hit against Tel Aviv building inspector Shoter Hovel, after the latter had stopped work on construction for the Scientology sect that Finkelstein represented.
Finkelstein also allegedly ordered the torching of the same Scientology building in an effort to generate new construction work, from which he was getting commissions from the building subcontractors he employed.
The gang that carried out these assignments, most of them members of the Bakar family from Jaffa, is also being linked to two other murder attempts: of a senior sheikh of the Hassan Bek Mosque in Jaffa, which they allegedly planned to use to frame rightists, and of businessman Eli Shakak. Finkelstein is apparently not connected to these assassination attempts.
Exposure in March of the plot against the sheikh and the subsequent arrest of five gang members emerged as the turning point in exposing Finkelstein's alleged crimes.
Under interrogation, one of the gang members turned state's witness and described various assignments he and his relatives had carried out for Finkelstein. Police were thus able to crack several cases that had eluded them for months.
One case involved repeated assaults against Danny Cohen. On November 21, a bomb that had been planted in Cohen's car went off, wounding Cohen and his 4-year-old daughter.
Police immediately began investigating whether Finkelstein had been involved, but the probe took other directions as well, including whether someone was out to "warn" Cohen with regard to business dealings he was involved in.
As the investigation advanced, however, it became clear that the bomb was meant to kill Cohen, not to scare him, and police began to focus on Finkelstein as the prime suspect. The connection was confirmed by the information provided by the state's witness.
"On the one hand, we are relieved, since to live not knowing what might hit you when you get up in the morning is not a life I wish on anyone," Cohen told Haaretz yesterday, adding that he and his wife had actually separated for a few months to reduce the risk to her and the children.
"But I can't understand what would drive a man who has children, a good family, a career and status to do such a thing," he added. "I have no idea what's behind this. I never had any confrontations with him or ever said anything bad about him, and was never part of a custody battle."
Hovel was apparently targeted because he had stymied the renovation of a Scientology building in Jaffa, a project over which Finkelstein had total control; he had located and arranged the purchase of the building - the former Alhambra movie house - for the group, and was supervising its renovation. Finkelstein hired all the contractors and took commissions from them for the work.
When Hovel came to inspect the building, he found that it exceeded its building permit by 1,000 square meters, and ordered work stopped and the excess construction demolished. This stopped the flow of funds from the project to Finkelstein and generated complaints from his client.
Jaffa residents Ramzi Bakar, 25, and his father, Nizar, worked in Finkelstein's office, and the lawyer approached them for help in dealing with Hovel.
In May 2010, Ramzi and another relative, Yusuf, planted a bomb in Hovel's car. The bomb exploded, but Hovel was only lightly wounded.
An angry Finkelstein ordered the Bakars to try again, and on May 29, Ramzi and another relative, Abdi Bakar, disguised as policemen, stopped Hovel's car and assaulted him with an electric stunner and their fists, injuring him, according to police.
Finkelstein then asked the Bakars to cause major damage to the Scientology building so that he would be required to redo much of the work, which would generate more commissions from the contractors.
Finkelstein had allegedly asked the Bakars to carry out the attack while dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have historically opposed Scientology, in order to divert any subsequent investigation.
A first attempt on February to blow up the building by flooding it with gasoline and igniting a gas canister failed, but 10 days later, the Bakars returned, spilled gallons of fuel at different points on the site, and set it on fire, causing heavy damage to the building.
A total of eight people have been arrested, including four members of the Bakar family, and a lawyer employed by the Justice Ministry, who is suspected of using the ministry database to obtain information about Hovel.
Members of Finkelstein's law firm refused to comment on the allegations. A spokeswoman for the Scientology organization said that it was too early to respond to an ongoing legal proceeding, but stressed that "neither Gur, nor any of the other suspects, are members of the Scientology organization, period."