State indicts former chief rabbi Metzger in NIS 10m bribery case

Charges against Metzger also include fraud, breach of public trust, theft and money-laundering.

Rabbi Yona Metzger (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Yona Metzger
The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday filed an indictment against former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger for allegedly accepting NIS 10 million in bribes.
The charges also include fraud, breach of public trust, fraudulent receipt of a benefit under aggravated circumstances, theft, money-laundering, tax violations and conspiracy to commit a felony, all while using his position as chief rabbi. The indictment ushers in a new stage in the latest legal drama of a major public figure to grab the country’s attention.
The indictment, filed with the Jerusalem District Court, was filed after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein rejected arguments by Metzger’s lawyer against the charges at a pre-indictment hearing.
Weinstein emphasized that his decision was in keeping with the recommendation of State Attorney Shai Nitzan and other prosecution officials on the case. Such pre-indictment hearings do not usually cause the attorney-general to change his decision.
Previously, Metzger’s defense team said in response to the attorney-general’s prior announcements that he would likely indict Metzger that “we received from the attorney-general the allegations against Rabbi Yona Metzger and the summons to a hearing. Rabbi Metzger denies the allegations made against him. According to the rabbi, he did not receive bribes, not through the state’s witness and not through anyone else, and did not launder money. We will address the allegations against the rabbi at the hearing he has been summoned to after we receive and review the investigative material.”
The indictment said that of the NIS 10m., NIS 7m. had gone directly to Metzger (the numbers are according to exchange rates at the time of the crimes – at current rates the amounts would drop to around NIS 8m. and NIS 5m., respectively.) According to the indictment, in most of the suspected criminal actions, Chaim Eisenstadt, Metzger’s driver, acted as his representative for his receiving bribes.
Due to Metzger and Eisenstadt’s closeness and the driver’s involvement in Metzger’s alleged scheme, Eisenstadt would be accused of having received double digits of the overall percentage of the bribes.
In the “Conversion Affair,” Metzger allegedly received large bribes from foreigners who wished to convert or to clarify whether they were Jewish under standards acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate.
The indictment said that Metzger and Rabbi Gavriel Cohen, the former head of the Beit Din rabbinical court of Los Angeles, split funds paid to Cohen regarding the issues in question.
It added that sometimes Metzger received the money, but made sure that at least in initial stages that checks were not made payable to him, such that he could better hide his involvement.
In 2011, the indictment said that Metzger and Cohen helped convert the children of a Russian businessman who had made aliya, at a price of $360,000, of which Metzger received $180,000.
Next, the indictment said that Metzger received 30-40 percent of donations slated for charitable organizations in exchange for his support and activities on behalf of those organizations.
One donation for $28,000 which was slated for a yeshiva in Metzger’s synagogue with connections to the Aish Hatorah yeshiva, found its way to Metzger and Eisenstadt instead, said the indictment.
Another donation of NIS 105,000 earmarked for the organization Beit Hatavshil, which helps provide food for the poor, was split between the charity and Metzger, who received around NIS 31,500 of the donation, without the donor’s knowledge, according to the indictment.
Another specific allegation involved Metzger receiving bribes under the guise of gifts, including for his son’s wedding in 2010.
In one case, Metzger allegedly received $500,000 in bribes under the guise of gifts in 10 separate cash payments.
At another ceremony for nominating a rabbi to receive an official position, one of that rabbi’s relatives gave Metzger $70,000, said the indictment.
The rabbi is also accused of not reporting all income he received to tax authorities, including failing to report the income to his accountant who filed his tax returns.
There are also money-laundering charges that Metzger used various middlemen to launder his funds, including using fictitious names to further throw the authorities off his trail.
The indictment also said that Metzger had instructed Eisenstadt to lie to police when questioned in order to protect Metzger.
To recover some of the money, the state filed a request to seize various assets under Metzger and his family members’ names which are connected to the unlawfully obtained funds per the indictment.
Metzger voluntarily suspended himself from a number of major duties in June 2013 amid the investigation while he was still in office.
He maintained his innocence but stepped down from serving on the Rabbinical High Court, the Chief Rabbinical Council and the Appointments Committee for Rabbinical Judges.