Rabbi Haim Cohen, Yossi Zelinger
Rabbi Haim Cohen was the intended recipient. Photo by Yossi Zelinger
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Three people have been detained, including a former employee in the bureau of a senior political figure, for allegedly threatening and trying to extort a leading rabbi.

According to the allegations, which were under a gag order until now, the suspects tried to coerce Rabbi Yaakov Klein - a rabbinical court judge in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem - into giving them money he had received for donations but which they believed he had kept for himself.

One of the suspects, an ultra-Orthodox benefactor living in the United States, claims that five years ago he gave a $600,000 donation to a man named Haim Cohen, a well-known Givatayim rabbi. The suspect said the donation had been intended for the needy, but was instead passed to a middleman, Klein, who was given responsibility for giving it to Cohen.

Klein maintains he never received the money.

The donor recently learned that Cohen had not received the money, and did not even know about the contribution.

Another suspect was informed of the circumstances, and allegedly came to Klein's office and presented himself as an envoy of the donor.

Police believe the second man, closely linked to criminal syndicates, asked Klein to give him $150,000 within a few days, and threatened to harm him and his family if he refused.

Among other things, police said, the suspect threatened to "blow up" the upcoming wedding of Klein's daughter.

Police believe that over the following months, Klein received dozens of threatening phone calls from the suspects.

Police said that shortly thereafter, a former employee in the bureau of a senior political official entered the picture, appearing at Klein's office and threatening him to make him come up with the money.

The man allegedly said he and his partners were in contact with a Netanya crime family, whom they said they could call on to hurt the rabbi's family if necessary.

The suspects allegedly insisted on an initial sum of tens of thousands of dollars.

During the same month, the three suspects (the U.S. donor and the other two suspects ) held a meeting with Klein.

Threatened with beating

Klein claims that at the meeting, the donor threatened him, promising he would "make sure I was beaten up."

In the days following the meeting, Klein said, his assistant received telephone calls threatening to harm his family.

Chief Inspector Avi Goldstein, head of the investigations department at Tel Aviv District police, said two suspects had been detained two weeks ago following Klein's complaint.

The donor remains under house arrest while the other two suspects will remain in custody until tomorrow.