J'lem bishop accused of corruption

Exclusive: 4-month investigation prompts opponents to urge bishop's resignation.

badbishop 88 (photo credit: )
badbishop 88
(photo credit: )
The chief pastor of the Anglican community in Israel, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, is facing mushrooming allegations of nepotism and graft which have clouded the end of his tenure in office, church officials said Wednesday. The corruption charges, the subject of a four-month internal church committee investigation, have prompted long-time opponents of the bishop to call for his immediate resignation. The internal church inquiry committee examined the allegations. It concluded that El-Assal arranged to have a tender for the insurance policy of employees of the church's two schools here issued to a company that promised to give half the commission to his son-in-law. The 35-page report, which was obtained by The Jerusalem Post, states that the bishop's actions constituted a "dramatic combination" of nepotism and violation of trust. "There was no doubt that the bishop's tactics and behavior...had a dramatic combination of nepotism and violation of trust, particularly in not consulting those responsible in the Church institutions such as the boards of the School," the report states. The report goes on to note that nepotism is rampant in the Church. A half page of the report is taken up with explaining what nepotism is. The six-member internal church committee of inquiry was established by the church diocese back in June to investigate allegations of corruption which surfaced against the bishop related to using his position as church leader to procure financial benefit for his son-in-law, Ayoub Kandaleft, who was in financial debt. The allegations centered around the bishop's involvement in allocating the insurance tender for the church's two schools, located in Jerusalem and in Nazareth, to a Nazareth insurance company that had previously agreed to allocate the bishop's son-in-law half the commission. The investigative committee, which held five public meetings and listened to more than 60 hours of public testimony - including from the bishop himself - passed on its conclusions to the church diocese at the end of September. The church diocese is charged with deciding how to proceed on the case, church officials said. The report, which was written in Arabic and also translated into English, notes that the committee's August 16 meeting with the head of the Church in which they took his testimony was both "difficult" and "embarrassing" due both to the nature of the questions and his stature in the church. The report notes that the allegations against the head of the church and the inquiry were unprecedented. The committee states in the report that it is "fully convinced" that their had been an understanding reached between the owners of the insurance agency and the bishop's son-in-law "with the prior knowledge and approval of the bishop" whereby his son-in-law would receive half of the commissions of the insurance policy. The report says that the bishop clearly hoped that the deal would help improve the strained financial situation of his son-in-law. The bishop told the committee that he acted for his son-in-law as "another humanitarian case," the report states. "My records over many years are full of aid to those in need and what I did for others in need, I did for Ayoub," he is quoted as telling the committee in their report. The bishop declined comment Wednesday on the report's findings. The bishop's opponents in the church on Wednesday publicly urged him to resign. "The bishop is criminally involved in one way or the other and he needs to realize the seriousness of the situation and step down," said Rev. Zahi Abu El Assal, a minister in the Anglican Church. "In a post like a bishop, you cannot do this, for God's sake," he added. "This is not something happening in a supermarket or a grocery store." The bishop is due to complete his tenure in March. "I do not understand how the clergy has not demanded the immediate resignation of the bishop," said Eliya Abdu, a member of the church and a member of one of the boards of the church schools. "How the clergy can sit in the church and keep on receiving the authority of the bishop is beyond me," he said. "This is an outrageous report which shows just the tip of the iceberg," he added. The chief pastor of the Anglican Community in Israel under fire for corruption charges previously generated controversy within the church by offering refuge to Mordechai Vanunu at his Jerusalem church following the latter's release from an Israeli jail two years ago.