Marseille Jewish Leader Under Investigation for Suspected Money Laundering

Zvi Ammar's lawyer says suspicions are 'completely based on unsubstantiated allegations,' and 'an act of harassment.'

PARIS - A well-known French Jewish businessman who serves as president of the Marseille Jewish "Consistory", the body that governs Jewish congregations in a given province, was investigated last week for misappropriation of funds and money laundering.

The suspicions against Zvi Ammar date back to 2007 when his name was connected to a larger police investigation into the contract killing of Olivier Plançon, the commercial director for sportswear company Mercure International of Monaco.

Zvi Ammar

Ammar, who runs another sportswear company called International Sports Fashion, does business with Adnan Houdrouge, Mercure's wealthy Lebanese owner. The Plançon killing took place in a parking lot owned by ISF.

Witnesses at the time told police that after the shooting they saw two men, one of whom was identified as Ammar, taking Plançon's bags out of his car and into the ISF office.

A bank slip for 346,360 euros was found in Plancon's bag, later retrieved by police from the ISF office - but only 15,000 Euros were found on Plancon's body.

Police have long suspected that the killing had to do with financial transactions between ISF and Mercure, and both Houdrouge and Ammar were arrested at the time under suspicion of money laundering and interfering with a crime investigation - charges they vehemently denied.

They were released for lack of evidence, only to be returned to custody early last week, apparently because of new evidence.

Ammar this week continued to protest his innocence. His lawyer Gerard Bismuth said that he was both surprised by the court's decision and shocked by the treatment of his client, which included being deprived of food and water for hours in jail.

"This ... is not based on any specific charge," he told the local press after the hearing. "It is completely based on unsubstantiated allegations ... this is an act of harassment."

Ammar, his brother Simon Ammar, Houdrouge and a fourth man connected to the case spent two days in custody at the police's Division of Economic and Financial affairs in Marseille.

He was released on bail of 50,000 euros and placed on probation last Wednesday. The probation includes presenting himself at the police station on a weekly basis and refraining from any contact with Houdrouge.