(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday rejected a petition to strike down the state’s plea bargain with Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, while expressing reservations with certain aspects of the deal.
The decision means that a lower court will soon formally approve the plea arrangement and Pinto will go on to be the state’s star witness against Asst.- Ch. (ret.) Menashe Arbiv, the former head of the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, while Pinto will get a light jail sentence and leniencies for cases that could have been filed against entities he runs and some of his family members.
The decision comes despite the High Court’s October 20 order to freeze the Pinto plea bargain, which signaled that it would take its oversight role seriously.
The court did seriously analyze the agreement, saying that the state could have driven a harder bargain to give Pinto or his family members more jail time or legal issues, such as aggressively going after some of his entities that were under investigation.
There was also criticism that the state agreed not to question Arbiv until the Pinto deal was set in stone.
But ultimately Justice Uri Shoham, who wrote the opinion, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and Deputy President Elyakim Rubinstein all said their misgivings about aspects of the deal were not significant enough to cancel it.
The court has noted that Pinto would go to jail for 12 months in the deal.
The court had less sympathy with a petition to reopen an investigation into top police official Efryaim Bracha, who had been questioned for his role in the Pinto affair, but not under caution.
Expressing impatience with the petitioners’ focus on Bracha not being questioned under caution, Deputy Supreme Court President Miriam Naor said, “What, does he need to be stoned to death?” The petitioners, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, hoped that the plea bargain would not go through after the court froze it in late October, only days before it was due to get the trial court’s endorsement.
At a hearing in October, Naor expressed doubts about the state’s decision to give Pinto a more lenient sentence and to save him from a full trial, saying “He was grabbing them [the state] by the neck, they don’t say this, but that is what comes out, reading between the lines, and they needed to perform an investigation under bad conditions.”
On the other hand, Naor showed understanding of the prosecution’s predicament.
“It is clear that absolute justice is that everyone gets what the law” decrees for him, she said, but added that “the question is whether there is a basis” for the court’s intervention regarding a “choice they [the prosecution] made” that was not in ideal circumstances.
Pinto was investigated in the past for allegedly bribing police officials. In mid-September, an indictment was filed with the Tel Aviv District Court against him as part of a plea bargain for him to testify against Arbiv.
Associates of Pinto allegedly gave Arbiv a series of bribes including a discounted apartment in Tel Aviv for his son, assistance in attaining US visas for his immediate family and free nights in a Manhattan hotel.
Arbiv resigned from his post on February 9, 2014, over the scandal, but he continues to claim innocence and charges that Pinto is corrupt and manipulating the state.
Pinto returned to Israel in May from the US and was interrogated by the police, and probably underwent polygraph tests, as part of a final round of confirmation over whether his allegations against Arbiv were sound.
The plea bargain includes Pinto pleading guilty to a reduced indictment and the state agreeing not to ask for more than a year of prison time.
During the February 2014 negotiations, the deal appeared to be falling apart over the questionable veracity of Pinto’s allegations and his demand that any indictment against him be dropped.
Pinto is well known in both Israel and the US. He is 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 the nation’s elite.