A 59-year-old cult leader from south Tel Aviv who was
romantically involved with 17 women and fathered 40 children with them was
arrested on Tuesday morning on suspicion of "enslaving" members of
his group and raping a number of the women.
Goel Razton, a self-styled 'spiritual guru,' was arrested during police raids
on two addresses in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood on Tuesday morning,
following a 7-month-long undercover investigation.
His 17 partners were detained for questioning, and later taken with their
children into temporary protective care by the Ministry of Welfare and Social
Police have refused to disclose at this stage whether the children had become
victims of sexual offenses, saying that the investigation was still active.
A woman who had previously lived with Ratzon before leaving the cult is widely
believed to have tipped off the authorities and set the investigation in
motion. Ratzon's defense attorney, Shlomzion Gabai, said her client had
suspected that a former insider acted as a source on behalf of the authorities.
Ratzon was cooperating with police during the investigation, and answered
questions, telling police that everything that went on in his homes took place
"out of free will."
Sources say he is attempting to portray a "business as usual"
approach during questioning.
A media gag order on the arrests was lifted on Thursday.
Dep.-Cmdr. Shlomi Michael, head of Tel Aviv police's Central Unit, said during
a press conference on Thursday, "We have succeeded in gathering a great
deal of evidence regarding the offenses of holding people under conditions of
enslavement, and rape."
He added, "Three days ago, the open phase of the investigation began. The
Central Unit, together with other police units, arrested the suspect, and
detained 17 women and 38 children - nine of them toddlers."
Michael added that the detectives who ran the investigation "were exposed
to very difficult scenes, despite their long experience."
One detective broke down in tears in the course of the investigation, Michael
Ratzon's remand was extended on Wednesday by 12 days during a Tel Aviv Magistrate's
Court session held behind closed doors. In addition to rape and enslavement,
police said he was under suspicion of inciting the women to commit suicide.
Two women were also arrested - one on suspicion of physical abuse, and the
other on suspicion of failing to report abuses to the authority.
The investigation was launched by Tel Aviv police's Central Unit in July 2009,
when welfare services received information over alleged "sexual offenses
within the family," police said.
After receiving the intelligence, an unprecedented inter-organizational effort
was launched, involving dozens of police detectives, 150 social services employees,
and central district state prosecutors, who concluded that sufficient evidence
existed to prosecute Ratzon.
Despite a number of media reports claiming that police were upset with social
services for failing to act sooner to disband Ratzon's cult, police strenuously
denied making such accusations.
"We would like to stress that the investigation was carried out in close
and full cooperation with social services and state prosecutors, and police
have no links to the various claims being floated in the media," Tel Aviv
Police prioritized the investigation above other cases and were allocated
nearly unlimited funds out of fear for the safety of the women and children,
one source close to the investigation said this week.
Goel Ratzon has long been the target of suspicion by authorities, and welfare
services are facing intense criticism for not acting sooner to disband the
But the women who lived with Ratzon did soon a voluntary basis, and both police
and welfare services believe they were powerless to act until new
anti-enslavement legislation was introduced in 2006.
Previous checks on children from Ratzon's group, carried out by social services
at kindergartens, found that they were well dressed, well fed, and equipped for
school, a fact social services believes ruled out the possibility of an
intrusive investigation up until now.
An amendment to the anti-enslavement law, which prohibits anyone to "hold
a person in conditions of slavery, including sexual slavery," enabled the
authorities to act this week. The offense carries a 16-year maximum prison
The authorities are interpreting "slavery" in this case to mean "psychological
slavery," resulting in total control by Ratzon of the women and children
who lived with him in several different apartment complexes.
Armed with the new legislation, sources said, it was possible to move against
Ratzon since the evidence allegedly shows that the women had "no
choice" but to comply with his demands.
The undercover investigation made use of electronic monitoring equipment, and
may have relied on an insider or a former insider. Detectives mapped out where
each woman and child slept in Ratzon's Tel Aviv housing complexes.
Social services are now highly concerned over how the women will react to the
arrests and the sudden manner in which their routine was disrupted. One source
described the women as "being in a state of mourning."
Social services must now decide which women can be released to the care of
family members together with their children. Other women may be permitted to
care for their children only under the supervision of professionals. Some women
could be deemed to pose too great a risk to their children, requiring
separation. One woman is suspected by police of collaborating with Ratzon in a
manner which jeopardized the safety of minors.
Authorities are viewing the first stage of the operation to disband the cult as
a success, but say that the process of rehabilitating the women and children is
a long and arduous one.
"This is a human and social phenomenon that is unacceptable in any civilized
country," one source familiar with the investigation said. "The
safety of the women and children was at risk.”