Hip-hop star Bushido’s evidence threatens to bring down mighty Berlin crime gang
Rapper under 24-hour protection after turning on former manager from the Abou-Chaker clan
In one of his gritty music videos, Bushido – a self-styled gangsta rap king – wears body armour while performing for the camera in front of a terrifying arsenal of weaponry.
It is a celebration of the gangland lifestyle that made him one of Germany’s best-known and wealthiest artists.
For a decade, the rapper relied on the support of one of the country’s most prominent criminal families, the Abou-Chaker clan, to manage his multi-million-dollar earnings.
But after a dramatic falling out, Bushido has to wear a protective vest – and has been forced humiliatingly to turn for protection to the police that he pillories in his lyrics.
For months, Berlin has been transfixed by a Bushido performance of a different kind inside the austere surroundings of Tiergarten district court after he turned on his former manager Arafat Abou-Chaker, accusing him of harassment, threats and blackmail.
Showing little of the swagger that has characterised his music career, Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi – better known as Bushido – detailed violent threats against himself and his family after he cut ties with the clan in 2017.
Arafat Abou-Chaker – who is on trial with three of his brothers Yasser, Nasser and Rommel – is also accused of failing to pay tax on Bushido’s fortune, based on the sale of 1.5 million albums that he used to build a property empire.
During their close relationship, the pair posed together at red carpet premieres in matching hoodies and puffer-jackets as each benefited from the association of the anti-establishment, hip-hop scene and the fast-living lifestyle of Arab-organised crime in the city.
In a series of articles, The National revealed how the scale and violent nature of clan crime became entangled in the fierce debate over the integration of migrants in Germany. Middle East-dominated gangs were responsible for a crime every eight hours in Berlin in 2020.
Their presence is such a part of Berlin life that there are tours dedicated to them.
Armed police officers wearing balaclavas flanked Bushido as he arrived in court to protect a man who they believe holds the key to bringing down one of Berlin’s once-untouchable crime families.
Police have been trying to nail the Abou-Chakers for years but a mixture of witness intimidation, fierce clan loyalty and a lack of political will have failed to bring down the most senior players in the gang. As Bushido raps in one of his best-known hits: "Don’t f*** with Berlin’s most wanted".
A large Lebanese family of Palestinian origin, the Abou-Chakers have amassed a long list of criminal convictions including large-scale money laundering.
The family has been linked with several high-profile crimes in recent years, including a 2010 heist on a poker tournament in the German capital in which thieves made off with nearly €250,000 ($295,000) in prize money.
Keen to present himself as a legitimate businessman, Arafat Abou-Chaker last month used a livestream on audio-based social network Clubhouse to declare that he should not be referred to as a clan boss.
Every turn of the high-profile case is followed by Germany’s tabloid press, rap fans and the public, as the authorities continue to crack down on the activities of the country’s Arab crime families.
Arafat Abou-Chaker, 44, is charged with insulting the rapper, depriving him of liberty, attempting serious blackmail, coercion and dangerous bodily harm. The brothers deny the charges against them.
At a hearing last week, the Abou-Chakers stared down Bushido during his 28th day of evidence in a court packed with reporters. During breaks, he remained under the protection of police officers, while the brothers smoked and drank takeaway coffees on the steps of the courthouse.
A tearful Bushido said he made the life-changing decision to go to the police when he heard of an alleged plot to attack his family with acid in 2019. “A line had been crossed,” he told the court.
“I'm rapping: ‘F*** the LKA, [an elite unit of the German police] and suddenly these guys are taking care of my family,” he said. “There are police officers with submachine guns in front of my children's daycare centre!”
Bushido’s wife fled to Denmark with their new-born baby after the threats and the family now lives under police protection.
Born to a Tunisian father and a German mother, Bushido was introduced to hip-hop by fellow rapper Fler.
The artists produced a seminal album together in 2002. Bushido, still working as a decorator, followed it up with a debut solo album regarded as a milestone of German gangster rap.
Bushido has courted controversy throughout his career, perhaps most notably in his refusal to distance himself from fans with extreme right-wing sympathies. He is frequently criticised for misogynistic, homophobic and racist lyrics.
The court heard that Bushido signed over 30 per cent of his income when he first came under the wing of the clan boss in 2007 – although the sums are disputed. He signed over power of attorney to the Abou-Chaker chief in 2010.
“In the last 10 years, Mr Arafat Abou-Chaker has earned €9m from me,” he told the court.
He said he offered to pay Arafat Abou-Chaker €1.8m over three years to settle their dispute, but this was rejected.
Instead, the clan boss allegedly demanded a large portion of the rapper’s fortune in payment, as well as a share of Bushido’s lucrative music earnings for the next 15 years, before locking the rapper in an office and attacking him with a chair and a water bottle in January 2018.
Shortly after the split from the Abou-Chakers, Bushido recruited Ashraf Remmo, a senior member of the larger Remmo clan, as his new manager. Bushido said the decision was based on the musical expertise of the Remmo leader, who had previously managed fellow rapper Massiv.
“Ashraf Remmo is friends with almost every artist in Germany,” he told the court. “Arafat has no idea about music. He's not a rap fan either – he doesn't like this music."
Bushido said he felt safer in Berlin under the protection of his new manager, and when gunmen shot up a cafe owned by Arafat Abou-Chaker in 2018 it was thought to be a warning to the clan chief.
One investigator told the local newspaper Berliner Zeitung at the time that "the shooting was a signal for Arafat. It means that his time is up."
Much of the rapper’s evidence centres around his decision to stay silent for years about his fraught relationship with the clan chief. He claims he is now leading a different life and has nothing to do with the clans.
Bushido has renounced his connections to Berlin’s criminal underworld. “I'm not a gangster, I wasn't a gangster – and I will never be a gangster.”
But he is firmly entrenched in the world of Berlin's Arab crime families, giving him credibility when speaking out against the gangs. Shortly after the split with Arafat Abou-Chaker, Bushido received public backing from Veysel Kilic, a notorious gangland hitman.
Kilic was arrested in December last year after being found lying in a pool of his own blood at the scene of a shootout in Kreuzberg that was caught on a security camera.
Three others, including Ali Abou-Chaker – one of Arafat’s brothers – and the nephew of another clan chief, were wounded in the gun fight that was thought to be connected to gambling debts.
Kilic, 39, faced the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence in Germany for numerous gun and drug offences. But he was never put on trial before he was deported to Turkey in secret in March.
“Arafat believed that the real reason for my rebellion was that Ashraf Remmo and Veysel Kilic were supporting me,” Bushido told the court.
Bushido likened the relationship with the Abou-Chaker chief to a “forced marriage” and described being bound by the clan’s code of honour.
“You don't talk to the police. That was part of my life for many years. You don't report, you refuse to testify, you withdraw statements,” he said.
“I wanted to prevent everything from becoming what it is today. I knew what would happen if I incriminated Arafat Abou-Chaker. When that silk curtain falls, it's all over.”
He insists he hasn’t lost credibility for turning on the Abou-Chakers. “For a long time, it was unthinkable that someone would stand against Arafat Abou-Chaker.”
Months after the acrimonious split in 2018, Bushido released Mephisto, a new single with lyrics comparing the clan chief to the devil and describing the rapper's efforts to find redemption after breaking free of his clutches.
Revelations are expected to continue for months with as many as 80 more witnesses due to give evidence.
The case is considered a pivotal part of the Berlin authorities’ strategy to crack down on Arab gangs in the city after years when they were left to establish power bases in Arab neighbourhoods of the city.
Politicians responded with near weekly-raids targeting crime-linked businesses and seeking to deport influential clan bosses.
The trial continues.
Updated: March 30, 2021 01:23 PM