Israel's 'Ratings King' Arrested After Police Link Him to Attacks on TV Execs

Dudu Topaz, one of the country's most famous entertainers, was arrested yesterday on suspicion of having commissioned a series of brutal attacks on senior figures in the media industry.

The victims were Avi Nir, CEO of one of the Channel 2 television franchisees, Keshet; Shira Margalit, deputy CEO of another Channel 2 franchisee, Reshet; and Boaz Ben Zion, an agent who represents actors.

Topaz's arrest followed an undercover investigation that lasted several months. He was questioned under caution for several hours yesterday, and police also searched his house for evidence.

Police suspect that the attacks on Nir and Margalit stemmed from Topaz's fury over their refusal to give him his own television show. As for Ben Zion, he had represented Topaz until about two weeks before he was attacked, when the two suddenly severed their relationship. Police believe this might be the motive for his attack.

Nir, the first victim, was attacked near his home last November. He later told police that his two assailants had asked whether he was "Avi Nir from the television" before they began beating him, prompting suspicions that the assault was connected to his job as Keshet's CEO. Then came the attacks on Ben Zion, in January, and Margalit, about two weeks ago, also near their respective homes.

Police asked all three victims whether they could think of anyone who might have a grudge against them, and all three named Topaz - though they also all said they had trouble believing he was involved. Margalit also showed detectives SMS messages from Topaz that bordered on threats.

Upon investigating, police discovered that Topaz had been very near the scene of all three attacks at the time they occurred. They also discovered that Topaz had held meetings and phone calls with the two men they suspected of carrying out the attack on Margalit - Suleiman Hiadara, 33, and Ayman Zubidat, 22, both security guards who work in the Tel Aviv area.

An hour before Topaz was arrested at his Tel Aviv home yesterday afternoon, police also arrested one of his neighbors, a 38-year-old security guard whom they suspect of putting Topaz in contact with the alleged assailants.

It was a wiretapped conversation between Topaz and this neighbor, a few days after Margalit's attack, that provided the breakthrough in the case. The neighbor is currently being questioned.

Zubidat and Hiadara, who were arrested on Saturday, were brought to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court yesterday, where they denied the allegations against them. However, Judge Zion Kapah said the evidence was strong enough to warrant holding them for five days - though not the 12 days police had requested.

Topaz, who also denied the allegations against him, was held in the Abu Kabir lockup overnight and will be brought to court this morning. Police plan to request an extension of his remand as well.

Following Topaz's arrest, the court also lifted the gag order that had previously been placed on all details of the investigation, with the exception of the ban on pictures of Zubidat and Hiadara. That will remain in force until the victims have been given a chance to try to pick them out of a line-up.

However, police noted yesterday, some of the suspects in the case may still be at large. Police currently have evidence against Zubidat and Hiadara only in the attack on Margalit. They plan to investigate whether the two were involved in the other assaults as well, but it is possible that different assailants attacked Nir and Ben Zion.

A few months ago, police arrested two different suspects in the assault on Ben Zion, Roman Aliyev of Ramle and Mohammed Yunes of Arara, because they had been seen near his house. However, both were released four days later due to lack of evidence.

Margalit, meanwhile, says that she is recovering from the assault, but the damage is still visible. Among other injuries, she suffered a broken nose and a fractured eye socket.