The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal for a reduced sentence and fine by a
central player in the Greek Patriarchate Affair, one of the most scandalous and
galling frauds pulled off in Israel’s history.
The decision was announced
Sunday, though it was handed down on Friday.
The central appeal was filed
by convicted Israeli businessman Benno Zussman against his five-and-ahalf year
sentence and over NIS 4 million in fines, for his part in a conspiracy and
fabricated deal between Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund and
Jerusalem’s Greek Patriarchate.
The scandal culminated with Zussman and
Yaakov Rabinovich, conspiring to forge the signature of an ailing and bedridden
Greek patriarch to sign over valuable real estate in Jerusalem for a
comparatively small sum.
The state had crossappealed, asking for an even
harsher sentence and higher fine, which was also rejected.
of high drama in the case was Zussman’s fleeing to Romania, where he avoided
prosecution until 2010, when, after extensive efforts, he was extradited to
In his appeal, Zussman asked the court to overturn his conviction
for fraud, and asked the court for a lighter sentence and a lower fine should it
uphold his conviction.
He said the lower court failed to properly
consider the testimony of several of the other parties who were present at the
time the transaction was finalized, who all testified that the patriarch was of
The state said that his fine was much lower and his prison
sentence shorter than that of his co-conspirator, Rabinovich, convicted and
sentenced years before while Zussman was still in Romania.
Court upheld the lower court’s findings of fact, stating that the witnesses
Zussman referred to were nearby, but never actually in the room with the
patriarch, reducing the value of their testimony.
In convicting Zussman,
the district court said the fraud was extraordinarily sophisticated and one in
which the reality of what happened was hard to believe.
cultivated a close relationship with the Greek Patriarchate for years. He
exploited these ties to craft a vast real estate conspiracy to “buy” invaluable
Greek Patriarchate lands in the capital’s Rehavia neighborhood, near Jerusalem’s
old central bus station and in Beit Shemesh.
Zussman and Rabinovich
convinced others that aging patriarch Diodoros I wished to “sell” many of the
valuable lands for a paltry $20m., in exchange for a 999-year lease (which would
automatically be renewed every 99 years).
KKL-JNF was thrilled with the
deal, due to concerns that when the current lease on those lands expired, the
Patriarchate would demand an inordinate sum for a new lease.