Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto admitted to bribing a high-ranking Israel Police official, Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha, in Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday. The admission came as part of a plea bargain one day after the return to Israel of the rabbi, who conducts a wide range of international activities from both Ashdod and New York, the latter being his main base of activity.
- Judge rejects Pinto’s bid to delay hearing on medical grounds
- Three of Rabbi Pinto’s four defense attorneys ask to resign
- Rabbi Pinto hospitalized upon arrival at Israel, ahead of hearing
- Rabbi Pinto endures rocky start to sentencing hearing for bribery
- Sentencing of Israeli rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto postponed by one week
- Rabbi Pinto sentenced to one year in prison
Upon arriving Monday at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Pinto complained of chest pains and underwent a heart catheterization at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. The following day the court charged him with bribing Bracha after the rabbi agreed to provide evidence that he bribed an even more senior police official, Maj. Gen Menashe Arviv, the former head of Lahav 433, the police body that investigates national crimes and corruption, and is often called the Israeli equivalent of the FBI.
In court, Judge Oded Mudrick asked Pinto whether he admitted to the charges against him. After Pinto said he understood all the charges and admitted to them, Mudrick then found him guilty of bribery, offering bribes and obstruction of justice.
Sentencing in the case will take place on April 28, prior to which the court ordered Pinto to remain in the country.
One of the rabbi's lawyers, Eyal Rosovsky, said the defense intended to bring a number of character witnesses to testify on Pinto’s behalf at the sentencing, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, whose testimony Rosovsky hopes to present by video-conference. The defense is also seeking to provide testimony from the questioning of Brig. Gen. Bracha, regarding the circumstances of the bribery. The prosecution objected to this, however, declaring the plea agreement barred the presentation of any further evidence concerning the case. The court has not yet ruled on that objection.
The prosecution is expected to ask that Pinto be given up to a year of actual jail time, while the defense is expected to ask for a lighter sentence. For his part, Rosovsky asked the court’s permission for his client to leave the country after the hearing later this month to have surgery abroad, but no ruling has been made on that request.
Pinto was indicted in September last year on charges that he gave about 400,000 shekels ($100,000) in bribes to Bracha, who now heads the national police fraud unit. Pinto was also charged with attempted bribery involving a similar amount, and of obstruction of justice. The indictment followed an earlier plea bargain in which the rabbi agreed to serve as a state’s witness against Arviv, the retired head of the elite Lahav 433 unit.
According information in the indictments, Pinto and his wife, Dvora, were apparently concerned that they would be brought in for questioning over the practices of Hazon Yeshaya, a nonprofit organization that was run by Pinto’s associate, Abraham Israel. In turn, Israel is said to have asked for Pinto’s support in the investigation; shortly thereafter, $1.2 million was transferred to Dvora Pinto’s bank account.
Rabbi Pinto is suspected of obstructing justice in that case and also of pressuring witnesses. He is said to have subsequently approached Bracha, whom he has known since 2007, offering him bribes. Bracha had regularly attended events organized by Pinto and they had developed close ties. Specifically, Pinto is said to have attempted to get the police officer to provide information about the investigation against Israel and himself.
In August 2012, about two weeks after Pinto and his wife were questioned by police in the Hazon Yeshaya case, the rabbi met with Bracha at Pinto’s suite at the Tel Aviv Hilton; the rabbi asked Bracha for more information and about the chances that he would be indicted. Bracha refused to elaborate, declining a gift that Pinto offered him, according to the indictment. Pinto then apparently offered Bracha $200,000 in an effort to pry more information from him about the case. When Bracha refused to accept the money, Pinto allegedly offered to transfer the sum to Bracha’s wife. Bracha went on vacation and upon his return, alerted the head of the police investigation unit at the time, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, of the attempted bribery.
Pinto and Bracha met again a couple of weeks later, at which time Pinto again sought information on the investigation and warned Bracha not to trust Segalovich. Apparently this was followed by other attempts to get information out of Bracha. Moreover, at a subsequent meeting between Bracha’s wife and Dvora Pinto, the latter allegedly handed over an envelope containing 100,000 Swiss francs (roughly $100,000) with a similar sum that had ostensibly been promised to Bracha himself.