Haredi Businessman Allegedly Blackmailed Over Financial Dispute

Dudi Zilbershlag, a well-known journalist, filed a complaint about the alleged blackmail attempt against him two months ago.

Two business rivals allegedly tried to blackmail a prominent Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) businessman by sending a woman to his hotel room to film him in compromising circumstances. A gag order on the case was lifted yesterday.

Dudi Zilbershlag, a well-known journalist, public relations expert and former senior official of Bikur Holim Hospital in Jerusalem, filed a complaint about the alleged blackmail attempt against him two months ago.

The subsequent police investigation produced two chief suspects. Both are Haredi businessmen who hold senior roles in Mifal Chaim-Meir Panim, a charity that Zilbershlag founded.

One of them, Peretz Hirschenboim, told Haaretz, "I have no idea who is behind the pictures of Zilbershlag. He has many enemies in the Haredi public."

Hirschenboim also accused Zilbershlag of taking money from the charity, which is best known for the soup kitchen it runs.

"We tried to sue him in a rabbinical court and he refused to appear," Hirschenboim said. "After we asked that he be summoned to the court, he suddenly appeared with a surveillance report about a senior Mifal Chaim-Meir Panim official that, among other things, involved women."

The two suspects allegedly hired private detectives to send an actress to Zilbershlag with the goal of getting him in a compromising situation. The detectives hired actress and director Tom Darom, who allegedly posed as a donor to Mifal Chaim-Meir Panim, at one point even handing him an envelope containing NIS 3,000 in cash. On their third meeting, the two allegedly went to a hotel room where the private investigators had installed surveillance equipment.

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court initially lifted the gag order Monday morning, but Hirschenboim's attorneys asked the court to delay publication. The court acceded, though the information had been in the media for several hours by that time.

Yesterday, Haaretz and other media outlets asked the court to lift the gag order, which it did, aside from the identity of one of the main suspects and one of the private investigators. The other private detective is Boaz Nehemia. Police have arrested both main suspects, both private detectives and Darom.

Zilbershlag and the two chief suspects had a financial conflict over the sale of Meir Panim, and the issue is now in arbitration. Police suspect that the other two were looking for a way to get Zilbershlag to concede the case.

Darom reportedly told police that she presented herself as a masseuse, and in this guise was able to photograph Zilbershlag in compromising positions. The photographs were then allegedly sent to Zilbershlag, his attorney and the arbitrator. In addition, a man posing as Darom's husband sent Zilbershlag text messages threatening to send the photographs to Zilbershlag's associates.

The two main suspects then allegedly followed up by demanding that Zilbershlag withdraw his suit. But instead, he went to the police.

Zilbershlag told Haaretz that Darom's alleged seduction attempt was "the height of a campaign of threats and extortion that has been going on for three years." He said the campaign also included "leaking lies" to the press about his role as chairman of the board of Bikur Holim, all with the goal of forcing him to back out of the suit against his rivals, which he claimed to be winning.

Zilbershlag did not deny commissioning a probe of certain Mifal Chaim-Meir Panim officials, but said the discovery of one of them in compromising circumstances was pure chance.

In 2007, after businessman Arcadi Gaydamak purchased the financially troubled Bikur Holim Hospital, he appointed Zilbershlag as chairman of the board. But the hospital's deficits continued to grow, and in September 2010, Zilbershlag was fired as chairman, although he remained on the board.

A month later, Zilbershlag was forced off the board entirely due to an audit by an accountant. The audit revealed that after a joint fund-raising drive for the hospital and Meir Panim in 2008, NIS 1.6 million had been improperly transferred from Bikur Holim to the charity, which Zilbershlag headed at the time.