High-profile trial involving rapper and crime boss begins in Berlin

Key witness wears bullet-proof vest as case involving kidnap, blackmail and fraud begins

 Joint plaintiff German rapper Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi, known under the pseudonym Bushido, at the trial on Monday. Rainer Keuenhof/EPA/Pool

Joint plaintiff German rapper Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi, known under the pseudonym Bushido, at the trial on Monday. Rainer Keuenhof/EPA/Pool

 

Germany’s most notorious rapper came face to face with his former manager, an Arab clan boss, on Monday in a high-profile court case involving charges of kidnap, blackmail, false imprisonment and fraud.

The high-profile case, with all the elements of a Netflix series, opened amid a high-security lockdown at Berlin district court, with armed police in riot gear and the key witness in a bullet-proof vest.

On trial is Arafat Abou-Chaker, the 44-year-old head of a German-Lebanese clan with Palestinian roots, and two of his brothers; they are accused of harassing and threatening a former client, the 41-year-old Bushido.

Born Anis Ferchichi in Bonn to German and Tunisian parents, Bushido began working with Arafat Abou-Chaker in 2008 just as he was becoming one of the country’s most prominent gangsta-rappers.

Nine years later, in the autumn of 2017, Bushido broke with Abou-Chaker and claims his manager, hearing the news, locked him in a room at their record label, injured him with a bottle and threw a chair at him.

The rapper claims his manager told him in their last meetings to “shut your mouth, you piece of s**t, before I cut it off” and demanded a lifetime management fee.

Defendant Arafat Abou-Chaker (right) is seen after the trial against former music manager Nasser Abou-Chaker (left) and three of his brothers at the regional court in Berlin, Germany on Monday. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA
Defendant Arafat Abou-Chaker (right) is seen after the trial against former music manager Nasser Abou-Chaker (left) and three of his brothers at the regional court in Berlin, Germany on Monday. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Accomplice

A feud ensued between the two, played out in the media. Bushido claims clan members threatened him, his wife and newborn baby. Fearing kidnap, his wife took their child to Denmark.

Flanked by five armed bodyguards, Bushido slipped into the Berlin courtroom on Monday wearing a face mask and avoiding his former manager’s gaze.

For nearly a decade, Bushido defended his clan connections, despite the family’s long list of convictions. As well as large-scale money-laundering using business and property, 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.

Bushido, the key witness in the case, will tell the court how, in 2013, he signed a document giving his manager power of attorney over his finances and property portfolio.

“Arafat decided everything,” said the rapper in an interview. “Of course, I’m not just a victim, I’m an accomplice, so I’m a contributor, I looked the other way all those years.”

Breakthrough

With more than 80 witnesses set to be called, the court case is expected to cast an unflattering light into Germany’s thriving rap scene – and its connections to organised crime.

Experts 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 resisted all attempt to rein them in, using their power as landlords and protection racket operators – with contacts deep in the city’s police force.

Berlin state prosecutor Ralph KnispelI, an expert on clan criminality, says any conviction will hinge on whether the rapper sticks to his story – or yields to intimidation.

“Often people make claims to the police,” said Mr Knispel, to the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily, “but in court play down their testimony or even revoke it”.