Rabbi Yeshayahu Pinto.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Justice Ministry met on Sunday with a lawyer for police Asst.-Ch. Menashe Arbiv, then abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting with the lawyers of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, who is alleged to have bribed Arbiv.
Prior to Sunday, Pinto and his lawyers had reached a preliminary deal with the prosecution in the case, agreeing that the rabbi would provide incriminating evidence against Arbiv and other police officers in exchange for some manner of leniency.
Arbiv is head of Lahav 443 – National Crime Unit, “the Israeli FBI.” Pinto, a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties and founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva, is well-known both in Israel and the US and has served as an adviser to a battery of Israel’s elite. Forbes Israel listed Pinto as the seventh-richest rabbi in Israel last year.
Arbiv’s lawyer, Gidon Fisher, met with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, State Attorney Shai Nitzan and other Justice Ministry top officials, and reportedly denied any wrongdoing by the police official. Fisher told them all bribery allegations of Pinto against Arbiv were manufactured to take the state off the trail of the rabbi’s crimes. The lawyer also reportedly added that all allegations were old news as the state reviewed them before Arbiv was promoted to his current post.
The state’s abrupt cancellation of the meeting with Pinto’s lawyers after its meeting with Fisher led some observers in the media – who had said Pinto had the upper hand in the case due to his preliminary deal with the prosecution – to predict that the tide had changed in Arbiv’s favor, in light of Fisher’s arguments and presented evidence.
The Justice Ministry responded to this speculation with an unusually lengthy and introspective statement, saying, “in response to inquiries from reporters regarding the cancellation of the meeting with Rabbi Pinto’s lawyers, we want to clarify: We are dealing with a complex case which requires a deep and careful review of all considerations...
This review requires additional time prior to the conditions becoming appropriate for the above-mentioned meeting.
Therefore, the attorney-general accepted the request of the Justice Ministry officials involved in the issue, and ordered postponing of the meeting for the moment.”
“To remove any doubt,” the statement continued, “we emphasize that regarding the said postponement, there is no connection to the meeting which was conducted earlier today with the lawyer for Asst.-Ch. Arbiv.”
Pressed for further clarification, the Justice Ministry indicated that all of the evidence from the various parties was being carefully checked and evaluated, with no decision reached as of yet as to the fate of either man. The Justice Ministry sent out a second statement late Sunday night, saying that Weinstein, Nitzan and other top officials had continued meeting through the evening, but had still not reached a decision.
Weinstein expressed support for the prosecution team’s careful deliberations.
Many in the media predicted that Arbiv may have to resign or face administrative censure, and that Pinto was now more likely to face a criminal indictment in Israel, on top of an FBI case against him in the US and a second US case in which he may be involved as a victim of extortion.
Earlier Sunday, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich and the Movement for Quality of Government in Israel each separately slammed the preliminary deal with Pinto and called for dropping any such deals for the sake of unearthing the truth.
The NGO said pursuing those accused of giving bribes was no less important than pursuing corruption in the police.
Yacimovich said Pinto’s representatives had an open door to speak to and cut deals with Weinstein, and argued that such a practice conflicted with “equality before the law” principles.
The Labor MK also contrasted what she said was Pinto’s lightning-fast reception with Weinstein from the slow pace with which the attorney-general has addressed other cases.
She called the process a “complete obstruction [of justice]” and said “it must be immediately stopped.”
Ben Zion Suki, who was a Pinto confidant and business associate in New York for many years, is presumed in most reports to be a potential central witness against Arbiv, Pinto or both.
Late Sunday, Channel 10 aired recordings of Suki and US Congressman Michael Grimm praising Pinto as part of a pro-Pinto fund-raising drive a few years ago.
Grimm and Pinto, after years of mutual political support, are now regarded as arch-enemies, with one of the US cases reportedly alleging that Grimm was among the parties who tried to extort funds from Pinto.