Ex-chief rabbi to plead guilty in NIS 10m. fraud case — report

Under plea bargain, Yona Metzger will reportedly confess to slew of corruption charges in exchange for reduced prison sentence

Former chief rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger at the Jerusalem District Court during his corruption trial on July 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former chief rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger at the Jerusalem District Court during his corruption trial on July 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger has reportedly reached a plea agreement with state prosecutors over a slew of corruption and bribery charges involving some NIS 10 million ($2.5 million).

Metzger will plead guilty to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting bribes, in exchange for a reduced jail sentence, Channel 2 reported Wednesday.

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

The report did not provide details on the length of the prison sentence the former chief rabbi would receive under the agreement.

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, due to the pending fraud investigation, just before the end of his 10-year term in office.

In 2014, the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit opened a months-long investigation into alleged scams linked to Metzger involving millions of shekels. 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 ($11,300) 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 siphoned off for his own 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.

Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi, whose 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 authority 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.

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