The chief rabbi of El Al Airlines, Rabbi Yohanan Hayut, has been questioned by police over suspicions that alongside his son, a notorious suspected conman, he defrauded hundreds of millions of shekels from business people.
Hayut was recently questioned under caution by police, Channel 12 news reported Friday.
Last month, his son Shimon Hayut was extradited from Greece back to Israel where he faces numerous criminal charges he previously avoided by fleeing the country in 2017.
The younger Hayut is believed to have traveled around Europe, presenting himself as Simon Leviev, the son of Russian-Israeli diamond mogul Lev Leviev. He used the dating app Tinder to contact women as Leviev and tricked them into loaning him money that he never repaid, earning himself the media moniker “The Tinder Swindler.”
In July, the 29-year-old Bnei Brak native was arrested in Greece following a joint operation by Interpol and the Israel Police.
His father is suspected of swindling people in Israel and abroad out of millions of shekels by presenting his son to contacts as Simon Leviev.
Hayut was questioned for hours regarding complaints by those claiming the pair defrauded them.
Police were also looking at text messages the rabbi sent in which he may have indicated he’d helped his son escape the country in 2017.
According to Channel 12, in one such message, Hayut wrote in apparent reference to his son: “Believe me, it was not a simple operation to get him out; and believe me, he is bringing in results that no one brought, so, my dear, [I] ask of you to give him what he needs and together we will see results, God willing, I assure you.”
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Hayut will face some his accusers during police arranged confrontations in the coming month, Channel 12 reported.
One of the plaintiffs said the pair defrauded him of hundreds of thousands of shekels based on bogus claims.
“I have waited a long time for this moment,” said the man, whose name was not released in the TV channel report and was described as an ultra-Orthodox businessman. “I want to look him in the eyes and accuse him for daring to cooperate with his son and defraud me. El Al should be ashamed that it is employing a man like that.”
Rabbi Pinhas Badush, who heads a charity fund, told Channel 12 that Hayut and his son tried to persuade him into parting with $400,000 dollars. Shimon Hayut arrived in a Ferrari, he said, and was presented by his father as Simon Leviev. However, Badush was suspicious and declined to work with the pair.
An attorney for Hayut said the rabbi denies the allegations and will cooperate with police, adding that his client “was happy that he was finally given the opportunity to refute the claims of wrongdoing against him.”
According to an investigative report by Norway’s Verdens Gang newspaper, Shimon Hayut conned women in Norway, Finland and Sweden out of hundreds of thousands of dollars using a Ponzi scheme.
Dubbing him “the Tinder Swindler,” the report said Shimon Hayut would charm women with lavish gifts and dinners on private jets using money he borrowed from other women he previously conned. Then, citing security concerns related to his business competition, he’d ask them for financial favors he promised to pay back.
Shimon Hayut also used other people to make his claims more believable, and surrounded himself with a fake bodyguard, business partners and more. He even officially changed his name to Leviev, so his driver’s license and passport would match his story.
Shimon Hayut was reportedly charged in Israel with theft, forgery and fraud in 2011, for cashing stolen checks. According to reports, he stole a checkbook belonging to a family while babysitting their child, and another couple while working as a handyman at their home.
But he fled Israel before his sentencing, settling in Finland. In 2015, Finnish authorities charged him with defrauding three women and sentenced him to two years in prison. In 2017, he was returned to Israel, where he was to be re-charged and sentenced, but had assumed a different identity and fled the country.
Israel declared him a wanted fugitive, and police appealed for help from international authorities to secure his return. Shimon Hayut is also wanted for various fraud and forgery offenses by Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
He has also denied the allegations against him, telling Channel 12 in an interview that all the women that have accused him of fraud and theft did so for personal reasons.
“Maybe they didn’t like being in a relationship with me, or the way that I act,” he said. “Maybe their hearts were broken during the process.”