Following Prominent Rabbi's Arrest, Police to Check Own Ranks

Police brass plan to discuss issue of officers mingling with the rich and famous in the coming days.

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Senior police officers routinely attended events hosted by a rabbi who was arrested last week on suspicion of attempted bribery and money laundering.

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto and his wife were arrested late Thursday night. Pinto is suspected of trying to bribe a senior police officer, Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha, to give him information about the investigation Bracha's unit was conducting into his activities.

Bracha reported the attempt to Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, head of the police investigations department, a few weeks ago, saying Pinto had offered him NIS 200,000. Segalovich told him to play along so that Pinto could be caught in the act. Bracha and Pinto then agreed that Pinto's wife would give the money to Bracha's wife, after which Bracha would deliver the desired information. Instead, police videotaped the handover and then immediately arrested Pinto and his wife, who were interrogated and then released subject to restrictions.

Pinto's lawyer, Yaron Lipshes, said that Pinto "answered all the police investigators' questions and told everything he knows, in order to speed the investigation as much as possible and refute the baseless suspicions against him. Rabbi Pinto is certain that after the facts have been clarified to the police investigators, they will understand that his conduct was faultless."

Pinto, 37, is one of Israel's best-known and most well-connected rabbis, and his followers were shocked by his arrest. They noted that Bracha and his wife, who are religious, had both frequently sought Pinto's advice on personal and family matters in recent years.

Pinto is also one of Israel's richest rabbis: Forbes magazine recently estimated his wealth at NIS 75 million. He has a seaside villa in Ashdod worth NIS 10 million as well as a home in Manhattan, and runs some 20 religious centers in several cities worldwide. He is known for his ties with businessmen, politicians, police officers, criminals and other public figures, who frequently seek his advice. These include businessmen Ilan Ben-Dov, Nochi Dankner, Rami Levy and Lev Leviev; politicians Limor Livnat (Likud ) and Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ), and suspected mobsters Shalom Domrani and Yossi Hariri.

The rabbi frequently mediates business deals among his associates, as with last month's deal in which Dankner sold 10 percent of Ganden Holdings to another Pinto follower, Argentine businessman Eduardo Elsztain, for $25 million. Pinto attended the signing in Buenos Aires.

Disclosure of Pinto's alleged attempt to bribe Bracha led some senior police officers to level harsh criticism at those of their colleagues who frequent the courts of various well-known rabbis - such as Pinto or the "x-ray rabbi," Yaakov Ifergan - where they mingle with politicians, businessmen and criminals. While the force can hardly bar policemen from consulting a rabbi or seeking his blessing, they said, officers who do so should arrange private meetings rather than attending the rabbi's public events.

"Events attended by politicians, tycoons and criminals can never be good for a policeman, because tomorrow, they might be in the interrogation room," one senior officer explained.

Moreover, he said, it's too easy in such situations for officers to be tempted to divulge secret information to the rich and powerful with whom they are mingling.

The sources said that police brass will discuss the issue in the coming days, and as a first step, will ban police officers from attending such events in uniform.

Currently, they noted, virtually all senior police officers - including Tel Aviv police chief Aharon Aksel, Jerusalem police chief Yossi Pariente and many other police major generals - routinely attend hilulas (memorial celebrations ) hosted by rabbis. The rabbis, they added, often use their connections to try to get promotions for officers who frequent their events.

"The officers who go don't go there to get a blessing; they go to meet important people," one senior officer said.

Rabbi Pinto shaking hands last year with Yossi Pariente, who is now Jerusalem police chief.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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