Elior Chen, the self-styled rabbi who allegedly influenced some of his followers to abuse their children in order to "correct their corrupt souls," was being interrogated by the Jerusalem District Police on Wednesday after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport following his extradition from Brazil.
Chen was being questioned at the Russian Compound Police Station. On the flight, he was accompanied by Brazilian and Israeli officers.
Police are expected to request a remand extension for Chen on Thursday morning.
The 29-year-old Betar Illit resident fled to Canada and then Brazil over a year ago, after a terrifying affair of child abuse was exposed in a haredi family in Jerusalem.
In June, Chen was apprehended by Brazilian police on a residential street in Sao Paolo, and in July, Brazilian authorities announced that Chen's appeal for refugee status in Brazil had been denied, strengthening a Supreme Court order to extradite him.
Chen's alleged crimes came to light after two brothers, an unconscious three-year-old and his four-and-a-half-year-old sibling, were rushed to the hospital on March 12, 2008 in serious condition. The younger child suffered severe brain damage and is still unconscious in a Jerusalem-area hospital.
According to prosecutors, Chen instructed the mother of the family and others to beat the children severely, saying this would mend their behavior. The two children were reportedly beaten with hammers, knives and other instruments. Their mother, who agreed to a plea bargain, said those were just some of the crimes.
Chen will likely be charged with abusing minors, soliciting to abuse minors, assaulting minors and conspiracy to commit a crime.
However, the prosecution may drop several of the charges in compliance with the extradition agreement.
Speaking to reporters before his client arrived at the Jerusalem district police station in the Russian Compound on Wednesday, Chen's attorney, Ariel Atari, said that he was waiting to see the charges that have been attributed to his client.
"But in any case," Atari said concerning the charges, "these things never happened." Regarding Chen's interrogation, Atari said that he had advised his client to remain silent. "He will look at the [investigators] during the interrogation, and he will listen to them, but whatever he has to say, he'll say in court," Atari said.
Atari also said that Chen had overheard a couple of Israeli police officers discussing the extradition while he was waiting to board the flight to Israel in Sao Paulo.
"He heard them say that there was a problem with the extradition, and that they needed to hurry up and get him on board the flight," Atari said. "When he heard that, he began to yell at reporters who were nearby, saying, 'There's a problem with the extradition!" According to Atari, officers then promptly took Chen to board the flight. Atari added that he considered his client "under arrest" from the moment he boarded the plane in Sao Paulo.
"And if he doesn't appear in front of a judge within 24 hours from that time, we will view his arrest as illegal, and ask the court to free him," Atari said.
After his arrival at the police station, Zion District Police Lieutenant Commander Bruno Stein told reporters during a press conference that despite Atari's statement, police had placed Chen under arrest when he arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, after the 14-hour flight from Brazil.
"He was not shackled during the flight, and he was informed of his arrest when the plane landed," Stein told reporters. "Additionally, we have consulted with the court, which assured us that his arrest was being viewed as beginning upon his arrival in Israel. However, in light of attorney Atari's statements, we have asked the prosecution to check the matter again."
Stein added that, "From our point of view, [Chen's] extradition, bringing him [back] to Israel, it's a big deal. We've gone through a period that was not so simple, but there is great satisfaction that we have brought him [back] to Israel and that he will stand trial."
Deputy Lieutenant Commander Moti Adari, who had gone to Brazil a week ago to oversee Chen's extradition, also spoke to reporters during the press conference, and described how Chen had refused to sign the extradition papers, and initially refused to board the plane.
"From his point of view, he's been kidnapped and taken to Israel by the police," Adari said. "He broke down. At one point, I saw him lying on the ground at the runway [in Brazil], but in the end he got on the plane with his bags and was quiet the entire flight."
Adari also told reporters he had informed Chen that "anything he said could be used against him during the investigation. And that was all I said to him," Adari added. "We didn't speak after that."
While Chen may indeed remain silent during his interrogation, the prosecution announced on Wednesday that even if he does so, they have enough solid evidence to file an indictment against him.