Police are investigating two Jerusalem Rabbinical Court officials over allegations that they demanded and received bribes from a father desperate to retain custody over his children during divorce proceedings before the court.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Thursday extended the remand of one suspect, Yaakov Sebag, and agreed with police that “a reasonable suspicion arises that Sebag received bribes in order to change [rabbincal] court decisions.”
The story began in late 2014, when the father turned to police after recording allegedly incriminating conversations with Sebag in which he offered to intercede on the father’s behalf with presiding judge Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel in exchange for money. Another clerk, Rabbi Saar Mizrachi, is also alleged to have asked the father for money in exchange for helping him win the custody battle.
The father, who is not named by police or the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that broke the story, turned state’s witness and has been aiding police in the investigation.
Mizrachi, according to Yedioth, is being investigated for brokering the bribes, fraudulently obtaining benefits and obstruction of justice. He is being held under house arrest. Sebag, a court scribe and secretary of Abergel’s courtroom, is suspected of bribery, obstruction of justice and fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances.
The father’s story, including the recordings, were published by Yedioth, and reveal Sebag negotiating the amount of a bribe.
“I was sitting in the court’s hallway,” the father recalled, “and all of a sudden Rabbi Saar Mizrachi walks up to me. I knew him from before. He saw I was in despair and asked how he could help.”
“I told him about the difficulties I was experiencing with the court and how my children were in danger. I told him I felt the court was biased against me and won’t allow me or my rabbinical advocate to even make our claims properly. He went in to talk to the judges panel’s secretary, Yaakov Sebag, and after a while he came back and led me to understand that money would help, and that if I wanted things to start being in my favor, I had no choice but to bribe. Without much of a choice, I gave him a thousand shekels in cash on the spot. I went home devastated. I committed grave acts to get the most basic justice.”
The case is now under investigation by the Anti-Fraud Unit of the Jerusalem Police. No charges have been leveled against the judges in the case, say police.
“We are confident that law enforcement authorities will do their work faithfully and we will cooperate if required to do so,” the court said in a statement.
Elimelech Kurzweil, Sebag’s attorney, told Yedioth that “there is no basis for the claim that there was an attempt to influence court proceedings, and in any case, we completely deny the matter.”
Shai Weiselberg, Mizrachi’s attorney, downplayed his client’s involvement. “My client was questioned by police and cooperated fully. He claims that he did not pocket any money. Even according to the police, his role in this affair was minor, and therefore the court decided to release him under house arrest.”