The Justice Ministry announced late Wednesday night that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had decided to indict Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto in the coming days on allegations of trying to bribe police Dep.-Ch. Ephraim Bracha, who heads the National Fraud Squad.
Pinto is a well-known rabbi both in Israel and the US, a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties, and the founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva. He was listed as the seventh-richest rabbi in Israel last year by Forbes Israel and has served as an adviser to a battery of Israel’s elite.
The dramatic decision came only days after Menashe Arbiv, formerly head of Lahav 443 (the "Israeli FBI") resigned his position in a series of weeks of moves between Pinto and Arbiv to outmaneuver each other in dealings with the State Attorney.
For some time, the media speculated that Pinto would cut a deal to turn state's witness against Arbiv to avoid prosecution.
The basic allegations, noted the statement, are that Pinto tried to bribe Bracha with $200,000 to get information from him about a criminal investigation into the "Hazon Yeshaya" foundation run by Pinto.
Bracha reported Pinto's actions to his superiors and then continued to gather evidence on Pinto, said the ministry statement.
The statement said that Weinstein's decision came following a recommendation by relatively new State Attorney Shai Nitzan, in one of his first major tests, to indict Pinto. Pinto is also expected to be charged with obstruction during an investigation including the giving of benefits and the use of illegal means toward various authorities, intimidating witnesses, money-laundering and other offenses, the statement noted.
It noted that although Weinstein offered Pinto a special pre-indictment hearing, that Pinto had declined and opted for going to trial.
The state said that the decision was made in a meeting of Weinstein, Nitzan and several other top officials , including Eli Shwartz.
Shwartz has been in the news lately with unconfirmed reports that he had threatened to resign if the prosecution cut a deal with Pinto and he was not indicted.
The question of Pinto cutting a deal was highly complex and rife with media speculation: including that an unofficial deal was already cut when Arbiv's name was made public as a suspect as well as that a deal was sealed for a light plea bargain and indictment with few of the harsher charges that the statement said ultimately would be included.
Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry denied any final agreements had been made, but it was confirmed that unofficial understandings had been reached that Pinto's lawyers would provide information to the ministry which would evaluate the information and give updates to Pinto's lawyers on major developments.
It was confirmed that if the information was considered important enough that a deal might have been cut.
The full-fledged indictment of Pinto, decided on after a final meeting with Pinto's lawyers which did not lead to an agreement, indicates that either Arbiv's resignation (which the statement pointedly noted) made his information obsolete, that the information was not useful or that Weinstein concluded that the public interest demanded a severe indictment of Pinto in any scenario.
The ministry statement said that Arbiv's fate is still being considered and that of the information which Pinto's lawyers provided on him before talks broke down, some of it justified further investigation and some of it did not.
The allegations against Arbiv relate to his time as police attaché in Washington, DC and involve allegations of receiving bribes in connection with Pinto.