(photo credit: SHAUL GOLAN/GPO)
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Oded Mudrik began hearing sentencing arguments on Tuesday that will determine the fate of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, including whether he will go to jail on a reduced bribery conviction as part of a plea bargain with the state.
The hearing was highly contentious, with the state’s lawyers and Pinto attorneys Zvi Kling and Eyal Rozovsky yelling at each other at times and fighting over whether a telephone call had taken place or not.
Although Pinto had already turned state’s witness against former Lahav 443 police commander Menashe Arbiv and confessed to bribery, the drama was expected: Not only had the plea bargain left his punishment – which the state wants to include a prison term – undecided, but Pinto has vehemently resisted having to return to Israel from the US for the ongoing court hearings.
The lawyers fought over whether Pinto could introduce new medical evidence and new experts to testify about his health and psychiatric conditions – tactics often used to argue that a person is unfit for prison.
State lawyers also objected to new documentary evidence of charitable contributions the defendant had made to associations that assist the poor, the elderly and children’s institutions, saying that the prosecution had not received the documents to review before the hearing.
Mudrik tried to calm and balance the sides, which have built up much bad blood over the issue of Pinto having to come to Israel for the hearings despite having claimed he was physically unfit to travel.
The judge said he would accept many of the newly produced pieces of evidence regarding a lenient punishment for Pinto, and suggested that the state not object to every issue.
However, he also said he would reserve the right to disqualify evidence later if he found it was improper, and warned Pinto’s lawyers that the state did have a right to review complex documents that were not a standard part of sentencing hearings.
Probably the most bizarre objection was the state lawyers’ opposition to Pinto’s attorneys submitting an interview with their boss, State Attorney Shai Nitzan, about the case, on the grounds that they had not read the interview and did not know it would be submitted.
In an emotional part of the hearing, a woman named Sarit testified regarding Pinto’s character, describing how he helped give her the will “to continue living” after she lost a son in last summer’s war in Gaza. She said she could not conceive how “a righteous man like this needs to go through this,” eventually trailing off into sobs. Pinto himself was shaking and sobbing as she spoke.
Over 100 supporters of the rabbi filled the courtroom.
They chanted the song “Tzaddik Yesod Olam” (A Righteous Man Is the Foundation of the World) when he entered the courtroom, angering the security guards on site.
The court also rejected any submission of evidence by police commander Ephraim Bracha, finding that it might skew his view of the issues since he would not be getting counter- evidence.
The continuous arguing, as well as an extended closed-door session regarding Pinto’s psychiatric and health issues, drew out the hearing long enough that Mudrik scheduled a continuation for Sunday. Pinto may testify at that hearing, and author Elie Wiesel is expected to testify by videoconference.
Among other things, the indictment charged Pinto with trying to bribe National Fraud Squad head Bracha with $200,000 to get information from him about a criminal investigation into the Hazon Yeshaya foundation Pinto was running. Bracha reported Pinto’s actions to his superiors, then continued to gather evidence on the rabbi, the indictment said.
The rabbi was also charged with obstruction during an investigation.
Pinto is the founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva and a wellknown rabbi in both Israel and the US. He is also a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties, Pinto and Abuhatzeira.
Forbes has previously listed him as the seventh-richest rabbi in Israel.