Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has decided to indict former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger for accepting bribes and other charges, pending a hearing, it was announced Tuesday.
Metzger was arrested in November 2013 on suspicion of bribe-taking, money-laundering and fraud during his term as Ashkenazi chief rabbi, from 2003 until June 2013, when he stepped down in light of the investigation against him.
Lahav 433, the police unit often referred to as the “Israeli FBI,” conducted a months-long inquiry into allegations that Metzger accepted monetary and material bribes in exchange for advancing the interests of several non-profit organizations.
The bribes totaled several million shekels, according to police. Metzger also allegedly tried to silence witnesses and interfere in the investigation, according to reports.
Police questioned Metzger about the case in June last year, around the end of his stint as chief rabbi, and placed him under house arrest. Metzger has denied the allegations against him.
Police said the findings of the investigation painted an increasingly clear picture that Metzger “allegedly received, over the years, illegal sums worth millions of shekels in exchange for performing activities and making decisions in various areas related to his role as chief rabbi – donations, conversions, rabbinic appointments, corrupt ties to tycoons and more.”
It is alleged that while he served as chief rabbi, Metzger took advantage of his position to accept bribes estimated to total roughly 10 million shekels, from which he took an estimated 7 million shekels into his own pocket.
Metzger’s defense attorneys, Professor David Libai and Elad Rath, confirmed that they had received a list of the charges against the rabbi and a summons to a hearing. “Rabbi Metzger denies the charges against him,” they said. “The rabbi says he never took a bribe, neither via the state’s witness nor through other means, nor did he launder money. We will enter our pleas regarding the allegations against Rabbi Metzger during the hearing to which we have been summoned, after we receive the investigative material for study.”
The Chief Rabbinate commented on Weinstein’s announcement that it “regretted the summons of Rabbi Metzger to a hearing. The rabbinate and all its employees are committed to proper administration and transparency, and this is indeed how things are done.”
A year ago, Israel Police announced that it was recommending that Metzger be prosecuted. The statement issued then by the Lahav 433 investigative unit stated that evidence against him had been found. The investigation file was then transferred to the Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office, before being handed over to the attorney general for his decision.
When Metzger was arrested last November, the court extended his remand by nine days. In the decision to extend his remand, the judge mentioned one of the papers that appeared in the investigation, of which he wrote: “The document is unique in its irregularity and its severity, and will shock anyone who reads it.”
Roughly 200,000 shekels were seized in Metzger’s bank accounts, and tens of thousands more were seized from a safe. In his police investigation he often answered questions by saying, “I do not recall.”
A police representative at the remand hearing in November said, “Even though the suspect was given his day in the investigation offices, he chooses not to remember a thing under questioning and puts all the responsibility onto others.”
Police officials suspected that in addition to the severe offenses with which Metzger is charged, he also attempted to tamper with witnesses and obstruct the investigation.
The investigation against Metzger became an open one in June 2013, with the approval of the attorney general and state prosecutor. Metzger was questioned under caution for 10 hours and released for five days of house arrest. Following the investigation, he suspended himself from some of his positions. He was elected chief rabbi of Israel in April 2003, and was also appointed as a judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
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