Israeli Legal Officials Concerned for Their Safety Before Decision in Pinto Case

Police fear that disciples of the rabbi, convicted of bribery, might lash out.

Shaul Golan

Legal officials and members of the police’s fraud investigation unit are taking precautions ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling on an appeal by Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, who was convicted last spring of bribing a senior police officer.

The police plan to assign bodyguards to certain officers who investigated Pinto, while legal officials involved in the investigation have been advised to alter their daily routines and mind where they park their cars.

Among those who have been warned is State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, amid fears that one of the rabbi’s disciples might lash out.

“There is no concrete information of a specific individual who may be targeted, but there is reason to believe that this could happen,” said a source familiar with the situation. “This has required us to take preventive measures and warn people.”

As part of a plea bargain, Pinto admitted to paying hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes to police Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha. Pinto was also convicted of attempted bribery and obstruction of justice.

The Tel Aviv District Court sentenced Pinto to one year in prison and a fine of 1 million shekels ($258,000).

In an appeal, Pinto’s lawyer Avigdor Feldman asked the Supreme Court to reduce the sentence. The first hearing was attended by hundreds of Pinto’s disciples.

A three-justice paneI of Menachem Mazuz, Isaac Amit and Zvi Zylbertal is expected to rule on the appeal soon. If the appeal is denied, Pinto is expected to start serving his sentence within days. During that stretch, security arrangements are expected to be heightened.

Pinto is considered one of Israel’s wealthiest rabbis. The great-grandson of a famous Moroccan-born mystic known as the Baba Sali, he amassed his fortune while serving as spiritual guru to the rich and powerful in Israel, New York and elsewhere.

In 2012, the head of the investigation team received a bodyguard — this came after he exchanged words with Pinto in court and Pinto appeared to threaten him. Associates of Pinto denied this, saying he sought to calm the situation and had told his followers to eschew violence.