Popular rabbi returns to Israel to testify in graft case

Popular rabbi returns to Israel to testify in graft case

Yoshiyahu Pinto, facing corruption charges, agrees to give evidence against former top police official in exchange for light sentence

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto (Photo by Yossi Zeliger/Flash90).
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto (Photo by Yossi Zeliger/Flash90).

A celebrity rabbi at the heart of a complex web of corruption and bribery investigations arrived in Israel Tuesday morning to testify against the former commander of a top police unit, in return for a lighter sentence on other bribery charges.

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto flew into Tel Aviv from the US, where he has been for several months while his defense team hammered out the testimony agreement with the state attorney.

Pinto is expected to testify to police against Menashe Arviv, the former head of the police’s anti-corruption unit who is suspected of receiving benefits from businessmen associated with the rabbi.

In exchange, Pinto is to receive no more than a year in prison, according to the deal with the state.

According to Channel 2, Pinto must convincingly counter the explanations that have been provided by Arviv’s defense or the state witness deal won’t go through.

However, police and the State Attorney still harbor doubts that Pinto can deliver the necessary evidence to make the deal worthwhile for prosecutors, the report said.

Pinto must pass a polygraph test before testifying, Army Radio reported.

The investigation of Pinto, a kabbalist with a large and influential international following, grabbed headlines in Israel in January after his lawyers alleged to the State Attorney’s Office that Arviv had received inappropriate benefits. The lawyers offered the information in the hope of securing immunity from criminal charges for Pinto in an investigation against him over a charity fund and the alleged bribing of another policeman.

Menashe Arviv announces his retirement from the Israel Police, February 9, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Menashe Arviv announces his retirement from the Israel Police, February 9, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

The scandal caused Arviv to take an extended vacation and then, in February, to resign after 36 years of service in the police, while proclaiming his innocence.

Earlier in February, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein 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 alleged he was connected.

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 April federal prosecutors brought charges against Republican US Rep. Michael Grimm for receiving large contributions from followers of Pinto, the congressman’s lawyer said at the time.

Grimm has acknowledged receiving $250,000 to $300,000 in contributions from followers of the rabbi.

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