Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Tuesday notified former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger that he is to face trial on charges of taking bribes, money laundering and other crimes, conditional on a pre-trial court hearing.
With the notification, Weinstein indicated his acceptance of a recommendation by the state prosecutor that Metzger stand trial. The former chief rabbi is suspected of accepting some NIS 10 million ($2.58 million) in bribes, of which he kept NIS 7 million ($1.8 million) for himself.
Metzger stepped down on July 24, 2013, after 10 years in office. He had been arrested the previous month and questioned in connection with the allegations, but was released without charge.
The National Fraud Unit opened an investigation last year that continued for several months and looked into alleged scams involving millions of shekels. The case was handed to the Jerusalem District Attorney’s office, which examined it before passing it in August last year to Weinstein, who has the final say on whether to press charges.
The police investigation revealed that Metzger had stashed €150,000 (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, according to Channel 10. At the time, Metzger contended that the money in Haifa came from an inheritance, but the investigation found that his claim was untrue.
According to the allegations, 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 is also suspected of taking bribes 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 food-supervision industry.
Metzger was voted into the prestigious position in 2003, thanks to 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.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.