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Six men suspected of defrauding the state by presenting the Education Ministry with forged identity cards had their remand extended yesterday by five days in the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.

Police believe they presented more than a thousand fake IDs to gain stipends for fictitious yeshiva students.

The six are Mattiyahu Hirschman; his sons, Chaim and Yisrael Hirschman; a relative, Shmuel Hirschman; Eliezer Landi and Yitzhak Wals. The men were arrested in the offices of ultra-Orthodox non-profits in Jerusalem, Beitar Ilit and Beit Shemesh.

According to the police representative at the hearing, Sergeant Major Meital Maor, the alleged scam involved no less than 40 non-profit groups, which used the same method to increase their funding.

The suspects are believed to have asked young ultra-Orthodox men for passport photos and used them to create fake ID cards. Maor told the judge the picture of one young man appeared on three ID cards.

The monthly stipend for yeshiva students is NIS 885; police suspect yeshivas have been using the method to increase their student numbers from mere dozens to hundreds.

Profits from the scheme would amount to tens of millions of shekels over the years, police said.

Not cooperating

The suspects were not cooperating and maintaining their right to remain silent, police said.

The police wanted a remand extension of 15 days, for fear the suspects would obstruct the investigation, but defense lawyers argued the media reporting of the affair ruled that out.

Police confiscated fake IDs, a printer, rubber stamps, a laminating machine and other items.

All the suspected organizations and schools belong to the Masmidim community and so there have been rumors among the Haredim that informants led police to the suspected forgers. The police would not confirm this.

Judge Dov Pollock said there was "a reasonable suspicion" the respondents carried out the offenses, that they might obstruct the investigation or attempt to flee.

Yair Golan, who represents five of the suspects, said the "open investigation is only beginning," and it will transpire the suspicions are "not as described by the police." Yair Nehorai, who represents the sixth suspect, said: "The decision to only extend their remand by four days speaks for itself."