Prison-bound former chief rabbi pleads guilty to taking bribes

Under plea bargain, Yona Metzger confesses to slew of corruption charges in exchange for a reduced 3-and-a-half-year sentence

Former Israel chief rabbi Yona Metzger at the Jerusalem District Court on Monday, January 30, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former Israel chief rabbi Yona Metzger at the Jerusalem District Court on Monday, January 30, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former chief rabbi Yona Metzger pleaded guilty Monday to a slew of corruption and bribery charges involving some NIS 10 million ($2.6 million), based on a plea deal that recommends he be jailed for three and a half years.

Metzger admitted to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting bribes. In addition to a prison term, the court will decide how long Metzger will be on probation and will foreclose on an apartment in his name in central Tel Aviv. He will also pay NIS 5 million ($1.3 million) in fines, a court spokesperson said.

His sentence is scheduled to be delivered on February 8, 2017.

The plea deal came after months of negotiations between Metzger’s attorneys and senior officials in the State Attorney’s Office.

Metzger was accused in March 2016 of accepting some NIS 10 million in bribes through various nonprofit groups, and keeping about NIS 7 million ($1.8 million) for himself.

He stepped down as chief rabbi on July 24, 2013, due to the fraud investigation against him, just before the conclusion of his 10-year term in office.

Police said Metzger had stashed about $200,000 with his sister in Haifa, and a search of his home turned up NIS 40,000 (over $11,300 at the time) in cash hidden in various books. Metzger initially contended that the money in Haifa came from an inheritance, but the investigation found that 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 took for his 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, or of European Jewish heritage, and one Sephardi, hailing from Jewish communities of the Muslim world. Their 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 authorities 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.

JTA contributed to this report.

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