Rabbi Pinto and the Bermuda Triangle of Public Funds

For years questions have been raised about certain rabbis’ huge wealth, but the police never wondered at the close ties between them and some of Israel's business magnates.

The troika of moguls-rabbis-police officers that evolved over the last decade raised enormous amounts of public money, some of which has never been seen again.

Was some of the money passed on from the rabbis to senior police officers? How much did Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto and Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan get paid by those businessmen and how much was at the public’s expense? We have no answers for these questions because the Israel Securities Authority doesn’t think the public should know how much and to whom public companies give money and what their mediation payments are intended for.

IDB’s longtime controlling shareholder Nochi Dankner, real estate mogul Jacky Ben Zaken and Partner’s Ilan Ben Dov contributed millions of shekels to Pinto and Ifergan, while at the same time making millions disappear from the public’s pension funds.

Last Friday morning, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino that he was extending his term by a year. Was Danino surprised? After all, three months before he was appointed commissioner he learned it from a text message from underworld “arbitrator” Bruriah Zevuloni, who has him on her speed dial.

It was in June 2011, during a visit of the leaders of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry at police headquarters. Danino was sitting at the head of the conference table, with Zevuloni, who is president of the federation’s scholarship fund, by his side. “Yohanan, you will be the next commissioner,” she texted him. He shared the text with those around him.

Zevuloni is known mainly for her arbitration services for Israel’s crime families. Her brother is the influential Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan, also known as “the X-ray rabbi” of Netivot, who may have nothing to do with public health but is closely connected to public funds.

At this stage it is not clear whether Danino has any reason to celebrate. Like the rest of Israel’s law enforcers, his term so far seems pale. Will this be held against him when he starts making money as a private businessman after the extra year’s term? Probably not. Like the other regulators, including the police top brass, he will easily find a job that pays millions with one of the business tycoons. If he goes to Yitzhak Tshuva, for example, he will find two former police commissioners and one police commander, making millions of shekels a year.

The ties between senior police officers and business magnates, on the one hand, and between police officers and rabbis, on the other hand, is nothing new. For years questions have been raised in the public about certain rabbis’ huge wealth. Pinto and Ifergan are two of the richest rabbis, with tens of millions of shekels each and a lifestyle of billionaires.

But nobody in the police force or the Tax Authority wondered at the close ties between some of the magnates and these two rabbis. Not even when two of the moguls – Dankner and Ben Zaken - were suspected of criminal acts.

Dankner received the title “an Exemplary Figure in the Jewish World” from the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry in 2009, after he contributed a few hundred thousand shekels of public funds to the federation.

Dankner was being investigated by the Israel Securities Authority and the prosecution recommended indicting him. Dankner’s lawyer, Eli Zohar, happens to be Pinto’s lawyer too. Ben Zaken was being investigated by both the Securities Authority and the Tax Authority.

The police haven’t opened an investigation against any Israeli business magnate. But they know very well how to take violent action against social protest activists demonstrating against the magnates.

Businessmen, retired officers, senior politicians, police officers and defense officials stood in line with former criminals for flights with Pinto, or visited Ifergan’s festivities in Netivot. At some point in the career of Ben Dov, Ben Zaken and Dankner, Pinto served not only as a rabbi and secret advisor but as an “investment banker.” He brokered, for example, a deal in which Ben Dov and Ben Zaken bought the Lipstick Tower in New York, a deal that cost the public tens of millions of dollars.

Pinto also brokered the investment deal of Eduardo Elsztain in Dankner’s company, when the latter still thought he could write off some of his private debts to Bank Leumi. Pinto, who persuaded Elsztain to invest in Dankner’s company, promised him he would triple his money, just like he promised Ben Dov great success in buying Partner. Neither of these happened, of course.

But things didn’t end up so badly, at least for Elsztain, who is one of Pinto’s disciples. A year after that investment Dankner is out of IDB, but Elsztain is deeply entrenched inside. And who else? Pinto of course. So while Dankner, Ben Zaken, Ben Dov and other billionaires fall from grace, or lose their power, Ifergan and Pinto have already amassed a huge fortune. 

Assaf Saar Global