Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Wednesday he would bring corruption charges against Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, a popular spiritual leader suspected of offering a bribe to a policeman.
Weinstein said he had accepted the recommendation of the State Attorney’s Office that Pinto be charged for allegedly offering a $200,000 bribe to Deputy Inspector General Ephraim Bracha in return for information about an investigation into the Hayim Yoshiyahu charity fund to which police allege he was connected.
The investigation of Pinto has grabbed headlines in Israel after his lawyers alleged to the State Attorney’s Office in mid-January that Maj. Gen. Menashe Arviv, who was director of the national crime and corruption investigation unit known as Lahav 433, received benefits from businessmen associated with the rabbi. The lawyers offered the information in the hope of securing immunity from criminal charges for Pinto in the investigation against him over the charity fund.
The scandal caused Arviv to take an extended vacation and then, at the beginning of this week, to resign after 36 years of service in the police, while proclaiming his innocence.
Weinstein said that a decision over a potential indictment against Arviv had not yet been made, and that suspicions against the former policeman may focus only on charges of unbecoming behavior, in which case his recent resignation would be taken into consideration.
Since 2011, Pinto, 39, who heads several charity organizations and Torah study institutions in the coastal city of Ashdod and in the US, has been the subject of a number of ongoing investigations, both by Israeli police and the FBI. The rabbi — whose followers include Jay Schottenstein, chairman of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing company, and Israeli real estate mogul Jacky Ben-Zaken — is suspected of embezzlement of funds from an organization he oversaw. According to FBI suspicions, he was also the target of a blackmail attempt.
In 2012, Pinto was arrested by the Police Investigations Department after his wife was documented transferring a briefcase to the unit’s Deputy Inspector General Ephraim Bracha, who headed the PID’s investigations bureau at the time. In the briefcase were $200,000 in cash, police discovered. Some reports said that Bracha accepted the briefcase as part of a sting operation, and there was no indication that he was under investigation for receiving it from Pinto’s wife.
Aspects of the case are also relevant to an ongoing FBI investigation.
In late 2011, while the police were conducting the initial probe into Pinto’s dealings, Arviv was appointed as the Israel Police’s envoy in the US. While living in New York, Arviv formed relationships with a number of businessmen who were considered close to Pinto, Haaretz reported. Later, according to Israeli police and FBI suspicions, Arviv received unspecified benefits from family members of one of those businessmen.
Meanwhile, Pinto was being questioned by the FBI, after he was allegedly blackmailed by businessmen who threatened to reveal medical information about his family. Pinto reportedly approached Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY), a veteran FBI agent, and asked him for assistance. Grimm was later suspected by the FBI of taking part in the alleged blackmail plot.
Pinto told the FBI that after Grimm became a suspect in the case, several senior Israeli officers and former government ministers approached Pinto and demanded that he not testify against the congressman.
Pinto admitted to transferring funds to Bracha, and stated that other senior officers, among them Arviv, had known of the transfer. His testimony raised concerns in the FBI that Israeli officials were attempting to obstruct the investigation.