The Justice Ministry revealed early Thursday morning that a senior police officer Cmdr. Menashe Arbib is suspected of being bribed by Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto.
The information was revealed after earlier Wednesday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court granted a request of several Hebrew media outlets to remove the gag order on the “severe scandal” that has rocked the Israel Police this week.
In its statement, the Justice Ministry said that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Attorney Shai Nitzan were given information in recent weeks implicating Arbib and members of his family in the receipt of benefits from people close to the Rabbi.
Arbib’s unit, Lahav 433, is often referred to as “The Israeli FBI.” He informed Police Chief Yohanan Danino earlier Wednesday that he was going on leave, but he denied any wrongdoing. Danino reportedly asked that the media hold back from groundless speculation and to allow the legal apparatus to perform its work on Arbib’s case before jumping to conclusions and confusing the public.
The Justice Ministry said Arbib had not yet been questioned and that further details of the bribery could still not be revealed pursuant to the court’s order which only lifted the gag order on a limited basis.
Following this receipt of information, last week, Channel 10 and Haaretz reported that Weinstein had decided to put a hold on the police investigation and the issuing of an indictment against Pinto.
However, regarding Pinto, the Justice Ministry said that media reports indicating that the investigation against him was entirely closed were incorrect, but it would not specify additional details.
Founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva, Pinto is a well-known rabbi both in Israel and the US, and a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties, Pinto and Abuhatzeira. He was listed as the seventh-richest rabbi in Israel last year by Forbes Israel.
Pinto has served as an adviser to a battery of Israel’s elite, including businessman Yitzhak Tshuva, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, former justice minister Yaakov Neeman and floundering business tycoon Nochi Dankner.
Despite the additional gag order on what items were given as part of the alleged bribery, widespread media reports indicated on Thursday that part of the allegations against Arbib related to time he spent serving as the Israeli police liaison in the US around 2011 and arose from a Manhattan businessman who was close to Pinto.
At the time Pinto was under investigation in the US, in one case as a suspect for bribery and also in a second case as a possible victim of extortion.
According to the media reports, Pinto told the Manhattan businessman that Arbib and family members of his had received multiple bribes.
The reports also said that during questioning about one of the investigations involving then Asst.-Ch. Ephraim Bracha, Pinto told the FBI that another Israeli police official, even more senior than Bracha, had received funds from Pinto.
In 2012, Pinto was arrested along with his wife after he allegedly gave a briefcase full of cash to Bracha, who reportedly, either was recorded during the meeting or told his superiors about Pinto’s attempted bribery, or both.
Bracha now heads the police’s National Fraud Squad.
Police said at the time that Pinto was trying to bribe Bracha in order to gain information about an investigation into a charity Pinto ran. However, Pinto denied the charge.
Bracha himself was a follower of the Ashdod and New York-based rabbi in the past and, according to people close to Pinto, had previously received financial assistance from the rabbi.
Reports have circulated that the information was linked to an FBI investigation, in which Pinto is a witness, as well as his personal connection to Bracha.
The Justice Ministry also reemphasized in its Thursday statement that Bracha, whom a ministry probe previously cleared, was not the subject of a Justice Ministry investigation, making it clear that Arbib is the main suspect.
One extremely vague allegation, which could be a spin-off of the various investigations relating to Pinto and also being reported in the media, is that a former senior Israeli minister, along with some other police officials, at some point tried to discourage Pinto from cooperating with an FBI investigation against US Congressman Michael Grimm.
It was unclear what, if any connection, the Arbib allegations had to the allegations regarding the former senior minister, though it appeared that supporters of Pinto might be the source of these allegations in an effort to improve his overall legal situation.
A spokesman for the Knesset Interior Committee confirmed on Wednesday that it would be holding closed door hearings next week to investigate the severe scandal and the possibly related developments involving Pinto.
The exact date of the hearing was still undecided as the situation appeared fluid, and the spokesman refused to comment on the substance of the scandal on the grounds that the committee’s deliberations were to be secret.
In advance of the lifting of the gag order and recent developments, Pinto released a vague statement to followers saying, “an ugly period has befallen us, has come upon us through no fault of our own and solely for poor and disgusting reasons, using scare tactics, intimidation and misdeeds, for which this is not the place to specify.”
Earlier in the week, Haaretz and other media had reported that “a severe scandal is shaking the Israel Police.”
According to the earlier media reports, the case threatened the police’s top brass and will deal a serious blow to public faith in the organization.
The police stressed that the Pinto case or any other singular case could not compromise the reputation of an entire organization, adding that its reputation could certainly not be shaken by the dramatic statements of some journalists.
Also, late Wednesday night, Channel 2 reported that there were disagreements between elements of the defense establishment and of the Justice Ministry on agreements reached with Pinto’s defense counsel.
Channel 10 reported that Pinto had passed a private polygraph test that confirmed his story relating to the above controversy.
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.