Chile drops brush fire charges against Israeli

Rotem Singer agrees to $10,000 fine and volunteering with JNF.

Rotem Singer 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Rotem Singer 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Chile’s state prosecution dropped charges on Wednesday against an Israeli backpacker suspected of accidentally starting a massive brushfire in the Torres del Paine national park last month.
The prosecution agreed to “suspend procedures” against Rotem Singer as part of a deal in which he agreed to a pay a $10,000 fine and volunteer for the Jewish National Fund for two years upon his return to Israel. Under the terms of the agreement, Singer is not implicated in starting the fire.
“We are very happy,” his mother told Army Radio on Thursday. “We don’t yet know when he will be able to return to Israel. His father is still with him there.”
Chilean authorities detained the 23-year-old backpacker last January on suspicion of inadvertently starting a conflagration that blazed through 14,500 hectares of pristine forest. Singer said he had been shocked when he was greeted by a group of angry protesters outside the court where his first hearing was held.
He denied any involvement in the fire, but news that an Israeli was a suspect in the investigation quickly spread. Chilean lawmakers, including Congressman Fuad Chahin and Senator Eugenio Tuma, accused Singer of being part of an Israeli conspiracy. One Chilean commentator speculated the fire might be part of an Israeli plan to invade Patagonia.
The Anti-Defamation League expressed its outrage at the time over what it said was the scapegoating of Jews and Israel.
“Irrespective of whether or not the Israeli individual was responsible for the fire, there is absolutely no justification for these kinds of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” wrote ADL head Abraham Foxman.
Police in Chile later began investigating alternate causes for the fires, which also ravaged several other parks. Investigators now believe they were at least partially the result of arson.
Members of Chile’s Jewish community offered assistance to Singer throughout his trial. Attorney Gabriel Zaliasnik, the former head of the Jewish community there, provided legal assistance, and Rabbi Menashe Permann, a Chabad emissary in Santiago, gave him lodging.
Chilean media quoted Singer on Thursday as thanking the Jewish community “that trusted me and had faith in my innocence.” Despite his ordeal, he said he hoped one day to return to Torres del Paine and “the beautiful country of Chile.”