Ex-Israel chief rabbi to serve jail time in plea deal for fraud
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Ex-Israel chief rabbi to serve jail time in plea deal for fraud

Under bargain, Yona Metzger will confess to slew of corruption charges in exchange for reduced prison sentence of 3.5 years, NIS 5 million fine

Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger at the Jerusalem District Court during his trial for taking bribes, fraud, and involvement in criminal activities, July 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger at the Jerusalem District Court during his trial for taking bribes, fraud, and involvement in criminal activities, July 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger will go to jail for three and a half years under the terms of a plea bargain reached with state prosecutors, the Justice Ministry announced Tuesday.

Metzger will also pay a fine of NIS 5 million ($1.3 million), the court said.

The deal states that Metzger will plead guilty to fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses, in exchange for a reduced jail sentence, after facing a slew of corruption and bribery charges. In addition to serving jail time, the state will foreclose on an apartment in Metzger’s name in central Tel Aviv and require him to pay a fine of NIS 5 million ($1.3 million).

The plea deal was reportedly offered after months of negotiations between Metzger’s attorneys and senior officials in the State Attorney’s Office.

Israel’s former president Moshe Katsav was paroled last month after serving more than five years of a seven-year prison term for rape. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is also currently serving time for corruption.

State Attorney Shai Nitzan outside the Ministry of Justice, Jerusalem, December 23, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
State Attorney Shai Nitzan outside the Ministry of Justice, Jerusalem, December 23, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last year, the Jerusalem District Court charged Metzger with accepting some NIS 10 million ($2.58 million) in bribes. He is accused of keeping NIS 7 million ($1.8 million) for himself.

Metzger stepped down as chief rabbi on July 24, 2013, just before the end of his 10-year term in office.

His decision came after Israel Police’s National Fraud Unit, also known by its internal police moniker Lahav 433, opened a months-long investigation into alleged scams linked to Metzger involving millions of shekels of funds purportedly siphoned into his accounts. The case was then handed to the Jerusalem District Attorney’s office, which examined it before passing it on to then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein, who brought the charges against Metzger.

Police said Metzger had stashed about $200,000 with his sister in Haifa, and a search of his home turned up NIS 40,000 (over $11,300 at the time) in cash hidden in various books. At the time, Metzger contended that the money in Haifa came from an inheritance, but the investigation found this claim to be untrue.

According to the indictment, various nonprofit organizations connected with the rabbi during his term in office received millions of shekels in donations, some of which Metzger allegedly took for his personal use.

In addition to profiting from donations to charitable causes, he was also accused of taking bribes meant to sway his opinion on matters he attended to as chief rabbi.

Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger (r) seen at the Jerusalem District Court at the opening of his trial, where he is suspected of taking bribed, fraud, and involvement in criminal activities, on March 10, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger (r) seen at the Jerusalem District Court at the opening of his trial, where he is suspected of taking bribed, fraud, and involvement in criminal activities, on March 10, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, or of European Jewish heritage, and one Sephardi, hailing from Jewish communities of the Muslim world. Their responsibilities include running the rabbinical courts and regulating the kosher food supervision industry.

Metzger was voted into the prestigious position in 2003 with the support of the senior ultra-Orthodox rabbinical authorities at the time.

In 2005, he was questioned on suspicion of receiving benefits from a hotel in Jerusalem in return for favors, and police recommended he be tried for fraud and breach of trust.

But the attorney general at the time, fearing an unsuccessful prosecution, decided against indicting him. Instead, he wrote a scathing report about Metzger, accusing him of lying to police and recommending that he resign immediately.

JTA contributed to this report.

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