Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was questioned under caution by the police Thursday on suspicion of bribery, fraud, embezzlement, breach of trust and money laundering.
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Three other suspects were arrested in the case, and they will be brought to the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court for a remand hearing Friday. But police haven't yet decided whether to release Metzger under restrictive conditions or ask the court to remand him as well.
Lahav 433, the police unit that specializes in economic crimes and corruption cases, has been conducting an undercover investigation into the case for some time. The probe began when police received a tip alleging illegal activities by Metzger and his associates, including taking bribes.
On Thursday, after receiving permission from the attorney general and the state prosecutor, they brought the investigation into the open and searched the homes and offices of all four suspects. During these raids, they seized documents, computers, and bank account records, among other items.
Metzger's lawyers, Professor David Lavi and Attorney Elad Rot, said, "The rabbi was called for questioning, arrived on time and was questioned for a few hours. Rabbi Metzger answered all the questions and denies the allegations."
This isn't the first time senior rabbis in the Chief Rabbinate have been questioned under caution by the police. Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar was questioned under caution in May 2005 over the kidnapping of a young man who had an affair with his daughter. But in the end, he was not indicted in this case.
That same year, Metzger was investigated on suspicion of receiving benefits worth tens of thousands of shekels from the David's Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, where he and his family spent a free vacation. His chief of staff, Meir Rosenthal, was also investigated in this case, as were other members of his staff. According to the police, Metzger cooperated fully with the investigators. But in the end, this case, too, was closed without charges.
Last year, former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron was indicted on charges of fraud, attempted fraud, giving false certification and breach of trust over an affair that first came to light in 2007. Dozens of other rabbis and officials of the rabbinate were also indicted in this case, in which rabbinic ordination was granted to thousands of members of the security services who hadn't actually completed the requisite studies or passed the required exams. This false certification enabled the "students" policemen, soldiers and Shin Bet security service personnel to obtain monthly raises of NIS 2,000 to NIS 4,000 apiece, due to state regulations that grant civil servants an automatic raise if they complete any kind of advanced degree.