MINSK - Yuri Dorn, president of the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations in
Belarus, is on trial for alleged bribe-taking and several other offenses under
Belarusian criminal law.
Dorn, a key figure in the country’s Jewish
community over the last 20 years, was arrested in March. The local police
launched an investigation after receiving information from members of the Jewish
community that he had been renting non-residential communal property to private
businesses for storage purposes and acting as if the public property were his
According to the members of the community who turned to the police,
Dorn, the official responsible for management, organizational and administrative
functions, signed the lease agreements for the property without consulting the
board of the community, as he was supposed to do.
The police told the
court that they had enlisted the help of a Belarusian-born Israeli businessman,
who had pretended to negotiate the rental of a nonresidential, community-owned
property and, to close the deal, had offered Dorn a $13,000 bribe, which he
A special investigative committee completed its work
three months ago and decided to bring charges against Dorn.
The court of
the central district of Minsk held its first hearing earlier this month. It took
the prosecutor more than two hours to read all the allegations against Dorn, who
is accused of violating seven articles of the criminal law in Belarus, including
accepting bribes, forging documents, avoiding taxes, destroying documents,
abusing power, and causing damage on a large scale.
The judge announced
that he would order witnesses to appear at the trial and told the suspect that
“if convicted, you will have to bear the expense of bringing the witnesses to
The prosecutor also accused the Jewish community leader of
illegally disassembling and damaging, along with local residents, the historical
home of the Hafetz Haim – one of the most important and influential rabbis of
the pre-Holocaust period. The dismantled house was transported to Lithuania
before being shipped to the United States.
“The defendant had been
signing all the lease agreements for the community-owned properties over the
last seven years,” said the prosecutor.
However, other members of the
Jewish community in Belarus dismissed the allegations against Dorn, describing
them as “Soviet- era setup methods” and claiming that none of the accusations
were even remotely plausible.
“Yuri Dorn is a good and honest person, and
the charges against him smack of classic Soviet-era setup methods,” said a
source close to him. “The Jewish community doesn’t own almost any real estate,
and even the main building of the community, where the synagogue is located,
belongs to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. All real estate
used by the community is rented.”
The source said it was true that “some
of the real estate used by the Jewish community in Minsk is rented out to
private businesses, in order to fund the community’s activities. Belarus taxes
all foreign currency transactions at 50 percent or more, so it makes more sense
to secure finance through local income in Belarusian roubles than to rely on
Still, the source continued, “a $13,000 bribe just to
push through a rental contract for a couple of dozen square meters of storage
space? That’s something one might pay to secure a $1 million contract. Who would
pay that much in a city where you can buy an apartment in the city’s business
center for $30,000?”
The source stressed that nonetheless, “Dorn, as the
community’s administrator, had the legal right to manage these.There was
nothing illegal in renting them out.”