Bhadrey Haredim owners arrested
The arrested Bhadrey Haredim website staff members. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Police have asked the attorney general to shut down the ultra-Orthodox news website Behadrei Haredim, several of whose executives and editors are accused of extorting large sums of money from public figures in exchange for not publishing damaging information on them.

The main suspect in the investigation is the CEO of the website, a man identified by police only as “G.” Yesterday, he was ordered to remain in custody an additional six days. G. and three other senior figures at the site were arrested on Sunday.

 A fifth website employee was arrested Wednesday, on suspicion of acting as G.’s agent in the extortions for a number of years. He was arrested at Ben-Gurion International Airport after returning from a visit to New York, and was released with restrictions after being questioned by police.

According to police officers involved in the investigation, even in the past few days, the site has posted defamatory reports about some of the alleged victims, who were seen entering Jerusalem’s Russian Compound police headquarters to give statements to detectives.

 “The Haredi community, or at least large parts of it, were in thrall to the criminals,” Jerusalem District Police Commander Niso Shaham said yesterday, referring to the suspects.

At G.’s detention hearing on Thursday, the police representative told the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that the suspect had “turned Behadrei Haredim into a machine for squeezing money from the Haredi public,” adding that he exploited “businessmen, senior officials, rabbis, politicians and ordinary people” to the tune of millions of shekels over a two year period.

The police representative said that since the arrests on Sunday the investigation has expanded to include many more alleged victims, some of whom live abroad. “Today it can be said ... that the suspicion against [G.] has grown stronger,” he said.

 Police say G., using the screen nickname Torat David, tried to extort money from Yanky Berger, whose secretly filmed video of his meeting with G. led to the arrests this week. Police officers recorded a phone conversation in which Berger told G. he could not pay the $120,000 a year he asked, then monitored G.’s personal computer as he logged in and began a conversation thread in a Behadrei Haredim forum that defamed Berger.

 G.’s attorneys said yesterday that even if the suspicions against their client are true the issue is an ethical one rather than a criminal one.