(photo credit: JTA)
Rabbi and international fugitive Eliezer Berland, 77, was arrested in Amsterdam on Thursday, ending a two-year saga that saw him hop across continents in an attempt to avoid capture and extradition to Israel.
Berland, a member of an offshoot of the Breslov Hassidic sect, left Israel to avoid arrest after several women, including a 15-year-old girl, complained of being sexually abused. His travels took him to Miami, Zurich, Morocco, Zimbabwe and South Africa, all the while accompanied by a small coterie of dedicated followers.
After evading capture by South African police, he traveled to Holland, where he was arrested at the airport. There was an international arrest warrant issued against him, according to reports, and he is expected to be extradited to Israel.
When Berland and his followers arrived in South Africa after his deportation from Zimbabwe, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein sent an email to his colleagues throughout the country, warning them not to provide any assistance to the group.
“Our community [must] not be involved with sheltering or supporting Berland and his followers,” Goldstein warned.
Any congregants likely to be “drawn into supporting or sheltering Berland and his followers” should be spoken with, he added, insisting that “Berland must return to Israel to face the criminal justice system.”
Zimbabwe’s Chronicle newspaper reported that Berland, whom it described as a “mega rich cleric,” had flown into the country on the private jet of a supporter and had been living in one of the country’s more expensive hotels together with “dozens” of supporters.
His exit from Morocco was likewise the result of a government-ordered deportation. According to reports, Moroccan King Mohammed VI personally ordered him kicked out of the country after reading the accusations against him in a local newspaper.