Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s convoluted and creative attempts to avoid indictment came close to being foiled by the dramatic resignation of Asst.-Ch. Menashe Arbiv, head of the police’s elite Lahav 433 unit.
Arbiv says he had no choice but to quit the force after Pinto’s still-obscure accusations left him in limbo.
Still, on Wednesday night, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said he would move to indict Pinto.
We do not know what took place between Pinto and Arbiv. The innuendo appears impenetrable. Perhaps there was something untoward – perhaps even bribery.
Perhaps it was all legal, even if unsavory.
The only incontrovertible facts were that the police were on Pinto’s tail for a slew of serious corruption suspicions and the prosecution was about to charge the rabbi – who is more a popular guru than a traditional religious leader.
Then, virtually on the eve of indictment, Pinto’s attorneys proposed a deal – their client would dish out dirt on Arbiv if declared a state witness and spared a trial on unrelated charges. The evidence Pinto could supposedly hand over against Arbiv was withheld and made contingent on a bargain.
The upshot was one of the most bizarre and shady episodes in the history of Israeli jurisprudence. The entire Pinto case was blocked pending an agreement.
Thus, someone suspected of serious felonies was allowed to engineer a situation that might give him a break so that the authorities could make a case against someone suspected of lesser transgressions.
Arbiv says he begged to be interrogated, to have his side of the story heard before any deal was rubber- stamped. No one responded to his entreaties.
The details are almost immaterial. It almost does not really matter whether Pinto or Arbiv is more trustworthy.
What matters is the sad spectacle of investigative forces who appear entirely reliant on tip-offs and snitches. The police should strive to gather some evidence on their own.
The Arbiv/Pinto case is by no means unique. It is merely the most high-profile instance where the prosecution seemed to seek a shortcut – via dubious pre-trial arrangements – apparently to avoid a showdown in court.
In the Pinto imbroglio, the pretext for negotiating with the suspect was the chance of catching a top cop.
The plain fact of the matter, however, is that the prosecution did not know whom to believe. Besides, it may be that Arbiv cultivated contacts he should not have with Pinto but that he thereby merely violated disciplinary codes and little more.
The prosecution took a huge gamble. Its inclination to negotiate with Pinto could teach miscreants that all they need do to extract themselves from a jam is incriminate senior police officers, regardless of the veracity of their accusations.
The perturbing truth is that too many deals have been struck in too many cases where nothing like the Pinto/Arbiv quandary existed to baffle investigators.
This should give us all pause for concern. The abiding impression is that it is easier to cut deals than to painstakingly investigate.
Some state’s-evidence deals and/or plea bargains are worthwhile, such as when police have a hard time proving the chief defendant’s guilt. In sexual assault cases, sparing the victim the ordeal of reliving the torment takes precedence. In other instances the police may wish to protect sources and refrain from exposing witnesses.
Finally, and not always excusably, there is a bureaucratic impetus. If every petty case went to trial, it is maintained, the courts would be so overloaded that they would effectively shut down.
The Pinto case, however, is hardly petty.
The really scary scenario is that the prosecution was simply loath to tangle with a charismatic guru such as Pinto. The magnetic mentor can mobilize too many mesmerized adherents to wage his war and the prospect was unappealing to our constabulary.
The very suspicion that the prosecution may have wanted to chose the easy route when offered the opportunity is more than distressing. It corrodes our faith in the justice system.