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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger denies graft, three associates kept in custody

The chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel was brought in for questioning for several hours by police Thursday after suspicions arose he was involved in pocketing donation money. In a statement released by his lawyers, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger denied the allegations against him.

The Rishon Letzion Magistrates Court remanded Thursday night for several days of three of Metzgers associates also arrested in the case, including Metzger’s driver and aide.
Earlier Thursday, members of the financial crimes unit of the police raided Metzger’s home and office Thursday afternoon after a two-month undercover investigation into suspicions that he was involved in fraud, theft, money laundering and bribe-taking.

“The Chief Rabbi today was summoned for questioning, held and interrogated for several hours. Rabbi Metzger answered all the questions and he denies the allegations against him,” said his lawyers in response to the arrest.

Metzger was questioned under caution by the unit for several hours.

The court remanded Metzger’s aide Haim Eizenstein for eight days. Simcha Karkovsky, head of the Beit Hatavshil non-profit, will be held for six days and Ben Zion Tzioni, head of the Tzedaka V’Mishpat non-profit, for seven days.

According to details of the investigation released to the media, police suspect Metzger was given hundreds of thousands of shekels by various nonprofits, which he pocketed or distributed to family members.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and state prosecutor Moshe Lador both signed off on the raid earlier Thursday, allowing it to go ahead. Police confiscated several papers, computers and other property belonging to Metzger, and froze bank accounts under his name.

“We were surprised to see this arrest,” said a spokesman for Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who added that Amar was praying that the charges will be baseless. “In every case, each person is presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise,” he added.

A member of Metzger’s family said that the affair “fell on my head like a bolt out of the blue.” He had heard the arrest from news reports, he told Ynet News. “We have no idea what it is about and we all hope this affair will end in nothing,” he added.

Metzger was questioned in 2005 over suspicions that he took bribes from a Jerusalem hotel, but the case was closed for lack of evidence.

His 10-year term is nearly at an end and he is due to step down once a new chief rabbi is chosen in the coming months.

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