German clan chief stands accused of tax fraud

Case set to shed light on clan business activity – particularly in Germany’s rap music scene

Defendant Arafat Abou-Chaker (right), head of a clan of Arabic origin, in court for the continuation of the trial against him and his brothers. Photograph: Getty

Defendant Arafat Abou-Chaker (right), head of a clan of Arabic origin, in court for the continuation of the trial against him and his brothers. Photograph: Getty

 

Nine decades after US gangster Al Capone was jailed for tax fraud, a similar fate may be looming for the head of one of Germany’s most notorious criminal clans.

In highly anticipated testimony, a leading German rapper has claimed he paid clan boss Arafat Abou-Chaker more than €9 million in undeclared income as his manager.

Anis Ferchichi, better known in Germany by his stage name Bushido, took on the Abou-Chaker clan as his management for nine years but says they threatened him physically when he broke with them in 2017.

Bushido is now under permanent police protection after the family demanded pay-offs and, according to the wife of a clan member, planned to kidnap the singer’s child.

After days of legal wrangling, the singer’s testimony is the most damning to ever emerge on Germany’s criminal clans.

An estimated 200,000 people live in so-called clan structures in Germany; there are 20 families in Berlin and most – involved in drugs, money laundering, prostitution and more – arrived in Germany in the 1970s from Lebanon or its refugee camps.

The criminal clans have been linked to many of Germany’s most spectacular crimes, but their closed structure means it is rare for witnesses testimony leading to convictions.

Abou-Chaker family members were convicted of carrying out a 2010 high-profile heist on a Berlin poker tournament where €242,000 in prize money was stolen.

Plaintiff Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi (left), known as German rapper Bushido, next to his lawyer as he waits at a courtroom for the continuation of a trial against the head of a clan of Arabic origin. Photograph: Getty
Plaintiff Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi (left), known as German rapper Bushido, next to his lawyer as he waits at a courtroom for the continuation of a trial against the head of a clan of Arabic origin. Photograph: Getty

Bushido, born in Bonn to German and Tunisian parents, told the Berlin court he approached Abou-Chaker in 2005 and paid him to get him out of an old record contract. Then the singer paid him again after he signed a new contract with Universal Music and, from then on, paid him 30 per cent of his income in cash.

“Arafat earned more than €9 million from me in the last 10 years,” he said. “Once he was pissed because he knew I’d gotten money from Universal, he punched me in the chest and said, ‘When do I get my money, or should I give you a smack in the face?’ ”

The singer told the court he came under pressure from his tax consultant to regularise his business affairs but, when he approached Abou-Chaker, the clan boss said that would give him “problems with rental allowance and health insurance”.

Abou-Chaker and two brothers face a series of charges: blackmail, false imprisonment, coercion, defamation and fraud.

The case, taking place amid high security in Berlin’s district court, is expected to throw light on clan business practices – in particular in Germany’s rap music scene.

For Bushido, their business relationship was characterised by mutual dependency and permanent intimidation, expanding to multimillion euro property deals.

“If Arafat said something, that it was done, end of story,” he said. “Everything was interwoven.”

The singer related how he co-founded a record label with Abou-Chaker and began to sign other performers. They also broke ties with the clan chief, were reportedly threatened and two are expected to testify in the case – with a verdict expected in November.

Despite regular cash payments, the singer said his manager took little interest in the music business, apart from paying €120,000 for a large Bushido billboard on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

For nearly a decade, despite the Abou-Chaker family’s notoriety and long list of convictions, Bushido defended his clan connections. Testifying to the police means his life is in danger and he lives with five round-the-clock bodyguards.

Berlin police say the case – if it ends in a conviction – will be a crucial breakthrough after years struggling with organised crime in the capital. So far the clans have fended off convictions by intimidating witnesses or covering their tracks ahead of raids, thanks to informers inside the police force.