Self-styled Guru Arrested for Raping, Enslaving Women

Goel Ratzon, a suspected cult leader, was arrested in Tel Aviv on Monday on suspicions of rape, enslavement and indecent assault of minors, police said yesterday.

On Wednesday, Ratzon was brought to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, where his remand was extended by 12 days. He is also suspected of extortion, incitement to arson and solicitation to commit suicide.

Police also detained Ratzon's 17 wives and 38 of his 60 children for questioning.

Police suspect that Ratzon imposed a harsh and unforgiving regime on his household, which had a rule book complete with punishments. Police say this is evidence of enslavement. Some of the prohibitions in the book include interrupting Ratzon, idling, arguing with him or with each other, and laughing indoors.

Police started an undercover investigation of Ratzon in June 2009, when one of his wives came to a welfare office and said the household was the scene of criminal acts, including rape and enslavement. Police opened the investigation under the 2006 Slavery Law, legislated to combat traffic in women. The decision to launch the investigation had to be made by State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, since dozens of minors were apparently involved.

One of Ratzon's wives cooperated with the police, providing them with the evidence necessary to carry out the arrest. Police devoted substantial resources to the investigation, including audio and video surveillance placed inside his homes.

Psychologists and psychiatrists were also embedded with the task force, since, according to investigators, footage from the Ratzon household was extremely distressing and difficult to watch.

Yesterday, after 12 hours of interrogation, Ratzon was still claiming that everything that happened in his household occurred with everyone's consent. He denied all the alleged sexual offenses.

But after several hours of questioning, some of the women began cooperating with the police. Police say that some appear to have been psychologically abused by Ratzon. They also supported him financially.

Ratzon's attorney, Shlomzion Gabai, said yesterday that her client denies all the allegations, and she plans to appeal the extension of the remand.

"It's difficult to keep people enslaved when their house is open and the women can come and go as they please," she said. "It's true there was a list of sanctions, but there is no evidence these were ever applied."