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Judge says sect leader 'provided detailed version of events'

Berland remanded over Hasidic cult cold case murders: ‘He implicated himself’

Convicted sex offender and fraudster briefly collapses in court; detention extended for 9 days for questioning over cold case murder of man, suspected murder of missing teen

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, November 2, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, November 2, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jailed sex offender and fraudster Rabbi Eliezer Berland was remanded on Tuesday to allow his continued interrogation in connection with decades-old homicide cases linked to his extremist ultra-Orthodox sect.

Judge Elad Lang said of Berland that “there was reasonable suspicion that he committed offenses. He implicated himself and provided a detailed version of events.”

A police representative told the court that there was evidence showing Berland’s responsibility for, and involvement in, the cases. The officer added that in recent days there have been “significant developments in the investigation.”

The court extended Berland’s remand  for nine days to allow his continued questioning.

At the entrance to the court, Berland briefly collapsed, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Berland entered prison last week after he was convicted of fraud in June, in a plea deal that saw him sentenced to 18 months.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, November 2, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He was arrested on Monday at the Nitzan Prison in Ramle. His wife, Tehillah Berland, was later also detained by police for questioning in Jerusalem.

A number of people have been detained recently over the suspected murder of a teenage boy and the unsolved murder of a man in the 1980s and 1990s.

Most details of the investigation are under a gag order that is in place until the end of the year.

The investigation into the disappearance and suspected murder of 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit and the murder of 41-year-old Avi Edri is tied to the Shuvu Bonim sect, run by Berland.

One of those arrested last month was the husband of a woman who has told police she was forced by sect members to lure one of the victims to a specific location. An attorney for the woman has said that her client was a victim of the extremist sect, and is cooperating with police in order to see justice done.

Another suspect is reportedly the son of a former senior government minister.

Police have previously said that some of those arrested were questioned over allegations of kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy to commit a crime. Not all are suspected of direct involvement in the killings.

Nissim Shitrit (L) and Avi Edri in undated photos (Courtesy)

Shitrit was allegedly beaten by the sect’s “religious police” four months before he was last seen in January 1986. In a documentary released by Kan in 2020, one of Berland’s former disciples said that the religious police murdered the boy, dismembered him and buried his body in Eshtaol Forest near Beit Shemesh. His remains were never found and the case was never solved.

Edri was found beaten to death in Ramot Forest in the north of Jerusalem in 1990.

The cult-like Shuvu Bonim offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect has had repeated run-ins with the law, including attacking witnesses.

Police guard followers of Rabbi Eliezer Berland waiting for his arrival at the Nitzan Prison in Ramle, on October 28, 2021 (Flash90)

Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he had sexually assaulted several female followers. After evading arrest for three years and slipping through various countries, Berland returned to Israel and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016, on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served. He was freed just five months later, in part due to his ill health.

Berland was arrested for fraud in February 2020, after hundreds of people filed police complaints saying that he had sold prayers and pills to desperate members of his community, promised families of individuals with disabilities that their loved ones would be able to walk, and told families of convicted felons that their relatives would be freed from prison.

The 18-month sentence he is currently serving was set to include the year he spent in jail before being released to house arrest in February of this year.

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