(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Despite its October 20 order to freeze the plea bargain of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, the High Court of Justice on Monday indicated that it would likely let the deal go through.
The court did sympathize with the petitioners who sought not to allow the plea bargain to go through and their criticism of the leniency of the plea bargain and the police’s failure to question top police official Efrayim Bracha under caution.
However, it noted that Pinto would go to jail for 12 months and that Bracha had been questioned for his role in the Pinto affair, just not under caution.
Expressing impatience with the petitioners’ focus on Bracha not being questioned under caution, Deputy Supreme Court President Miriam Naor said about the treatment of Bracha, “What, does he need to be stoned to death?” The petitioners, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, hoped that the please bargain would not go through after the court froze it in late October, only days before it was due to get the trial court’s endorsement.
The court ordered the state to provide further explanations of its decision to cut the deal, in which it reduced the charges against Pinto so he would testify against a former top police official.
At the last hearing in October, Naor had expressed doubts about the state’s decision to give Pinto a more lenient sentence and to save him from a full trial, saying “he was grabbing them [the state] by the neck, they don’t say this, but that is what comes out, reading between the lines, and they needed to perform an investigation under bad conditions.”
On the other hand, Naor showed some understanding of the prosecution’s predicament.
“It is clear that absolute justice is that everyone gets what the law” decrees for them, she said, but added that “the question is whether there is a basis” for the court’s intervention regarding a “choice they [the prosecution] made” that was not in ideal circumstances.
Pinto was investigated in the past for allegedly bribing police officials. In mid-September, an indictment was filed with the Tel Aviv District Court against Pinto as part of a plea bargain for him to testify against former Lahav 433 chief Menashe Arbiv.
Associates of Pinto allegedly gave Arbiv a series of bribes including a discounted apartment in Tel Aviv for his son, assistance in attaining US visas for his immediate family and free nights in a Manhattan hotel.
Arbiv, who was essentially the former head of the “Israeli FBI,” resigned from his post on February 9 over the scandal, though he continues to claim his innocence and charges that Pinto is corrupt and manipulating the state.
Pinto returned to Israel in May from the US and was interrogated by the police, and probably underwent polygraph tests, as part of a final round of confirmation over whether his allegations against Arbiv were sound.
The plea bargain includes Pinto pleading guilty to a reduced indictment and the state agreeing not to ask for more than a year of prison time.
During the February negotiations for a plea bargain, the deal appeared to be falling apart over the questionable veracity of the rabbi’s allegations and his demand that any indictment against him be dropped.
Pinto is well known both in Israel and the United States.
He is a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties and the founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva.
He was listed as the seventh- richest rabbi in Israel last year by Forbes Israel and has served as an adviser to a battery of Israel’s elite.