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Israel to charge French consulate worker with gun-smuggling

The French consulate in Jerusalem ©Neta/Wikimedia Commons

A French consulate worker has been arrested Israel for allegedly smuggling arms between the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

Romain Franck, 24, is to be charged with being part of a gun-running network on Monday along with five other suspects, Israel's security agency, Shin Bet, said in a statement.

Franck was arrested in February along with nine Palestinians.

One of his co-accused is a Palestinian consulate security guard.

He has been working at the consulate as a junior employee for about a year and used the consulate's car, which benefited from diplomatic privileges, to smuggle arms out of Gaza.

"The consulate employee transferred arms on five occasions, during which he transferred some 70 pistols and two automatic rifles," the statement said.

Diplomatic relations not affected

But the agency accepts that his superiors were not aware of his behaviour and officials say that Israel's "excellent" diplomatic relations with France will not be affected.

"The investigation clearly shows that Franck acted for financial gain, of his own accord and unbeknownst to his superiors," an Israel Secuirty Agency statement said. "It was also learned that several of the suspects were involved in smuggling funds from the Gaza Strip to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]."

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is to visit the Middle East in a few days' time.

Franck is believed to have acted for financial gain rather than from political conviction.

According to some sources he has admitted smuggling arms but denied doing so far a "terrorist" group, RFI Ramallah correspondent Marine Vlahovic reports.

A spokesman for France's embassy in Israel said Sunday "we take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities".

Franck "has benefited and continues to enjoy the consular protection" provided to French nationals, he said.

In 2013 a French consulate employee left the country in a hurry after being caught smuggling gold and tobacco from Jordan into the West Bank.