Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto Suspected of Bribing Police and Intimidating Witnesses

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(Haaretz) — Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto is suspected of systematically collecting information about senior police officers, demanding that some of them be replaced, threatening an officer, offering bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and intimidating witnesses, according to a document prosecutors sent to Pinto and his wife, Rivka, a few weeks ago.

Prosecutors are now busy turning the 10-page document detailing these suspicions into an indictment, as Pinto waived his right to a hearing. The likely charges will include offering bribes, obstructing an investigation, suborning witnesses, making threats and money laundering. Pinto denies all the allegations.

The document, whose contents Haaretz is revealing for the first time, opens with the case of the now-defunct charity Hazon Yeshaya, run by one of Pinto’s associates, Abraham Israel. In 2011, some of the charity’s employees began suspecting Israel of embezzlement and demanded that he resign. Israel refused, and sought Pinto’s help, which Pinto agreed to provide.

Pursuant to this agreement, the document said, Israel transferred control of Hazon Yeshaya and its assets to Pinto. Some of Pinto’s associates were appointed to its board, and $1.1 million was transferred from Friends of Hazon Yeshaya to Rivka Pinto’s bank account. The Pintos “made use of this money for their personal affairs, such as paying for flights and hotels, paying their children’s nannies, money for their relatives, and legal fees.”

In December 2011, a complaint to the police sparked an undercover investigation of Israel and Hazon Yeshaya. Pinto soon discovered this, though who told him isn’t known. He then “decided to obstruct the investigation,” lest incriminating evidence against himself, his wife and Israel be found, the document said. To this end, “The rabbi began gathering information about the progress of the investigation and the people conducting it,” including senior police officers.

In January 2012, the document said, Pinto – possibly via his wife – ordered Israel not to return from a trip abroad in order to hinder the investigation. Israel ended up staying overseas for four months. In addition, having concluded from the information he obtained that police were probably wiretapping Israel and other Hazon Yeshaya employees, Pinto “instructed Israel to avoid speaking freely or mentioning names during phone calls. Israel acted accordingly.”

Pinto also pressured the complainants to “recant … their testimony to the police.” In part, the document said, he did this by making religious threats against them, since most were Orthodox Jews.

Moreover, he sought to buy the silence of Hazon Yeshaya employee David Simantov by paying him 150,000 shekels ($43,000), since he feared Simantov’s testimony could be “decisive,” the document said. The money was transferred from Rivka Pinto’s U.S. bank account to Simantov’s account on March 29, 2012. Simantov was arrested the next month, but indeed refused to talk for a long time.

At about this time, Pinto met with Maj. Gen. Menashe Arviv, then the police’s representative in the United States, and tried to obtain information about various cases involving himself. At one point, he offered to help the police with another investigation if Brig. Gen. Ziva Agami, who commanded the fraud squad and was in charge of the Hazon Yeshaya probe, were ousted from her job. He also demanded the ouster of the head of the international investigations division, Brig. Gen. Haim Ifergan.

At this point, a key figure enters the story: Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha, the head of an investigative unit. Bracha first met Pinto in 2007, and the two became very close. They met frequently and also spoke by phone. Pinto discussed various criminal cases in the United States in which he was a complainant and asked Bracha about his work; they also discussed personal matters. Rivka Pinto spoke with Bracha by phone as well. “Bracha greatly admired the rabbi and saw him as a spiritual authority,” the document said.

In February 2012, Bracha took leave from the police due to a personal problem involving a relative. Though he told very few people about this problem, Pinto was one. At about the same time, police questioned one of Pinto’s associates, and the Pintos thought they would be next, the document said.

That month, Pinto visited Bracha at home and sought to give him a pair of tefillin (phylacteries) previously used by the rabbi himself to pass on to the relative in trouble. Bracha said he could accept only if he paid Pinto the price of a new pair of tefillin, and Pinto “understood from Brig. Gen. Bracha that accepting the tefillin without paying for them would be a bribe.” Pinto therefore agreed to accept payment.

In July 2012, police questioned Pinto and his wife about Hazon Yeshaya. The following month, Pinto invited Bracha to meet with him at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv and began asking him about the Hazon Yeshaya investigation, including whether he would be indicted. Though Bracha was well-versed in the details of the case, he told Pinto he didn’t know much about it.

At that point, the document said, Pinto decided to offer Bracha a large bribe – $200,000 – “on the assumption that if the gift was worth a lot, Bracha would drop his objection to receiving favors from him, and this would increase Bracha’s willingness to help the rabbi by giving him information and exerting influence over decisions on their case.” But Bracha refused the money, saying that as a policeman, he couldn’t accept it.

A few days later, Bracha returned from his leave and told Yoav Segalovich, head of the police’s investigations division, about his meeting with Pinto at the Hilton. Segalovich decided to open an investigation.

Four days later, Bracha returned to the Hilton for another meeting with Pinto – this time apparently wearing a recording device. Pinto again offered Bracha $200,000 and sought confidential information about the Hazon Yeshaya case; he also warned Bracha not to trust Segalovich.

At the end of the meeting, Pinto said his wife wanted to meet with Bracha’s wife. Then, as Bracha was about to leave, Pinto whispered in his ear, “$200,000.” Bracha tried to ask a question, but Pinto cut him off, saying, “Don’t talk.”

Shortly afterward, the Pintos went abroad, but they continued to try to get information about the investigation from Bracha by phone.

On September 13, Bracha brought his wife – also wearing a wire – to the Tel Aviv Hilton, where she met privately with Pinto’s wife. “I owe you our entire lives,” Rivka Pinto told her. She then handed over an envelope containing 100,000 Swiss francs (about 425,000 shekels at that time) and said that after the upcoming Sukkot holiday, “the rabbi wants to give Ephraim another $100,000.”

The Pintos then went abroad again, but continued to seek information about the investigation from Bracha by phone.

In October 2012, police arrested the Pintos and questioned them under caution. When the investigators allowed Pinto to meet with his wife, the document said, he put his hand over his mouth and told her, “Insist on your right to remain silent.”

After a courtroom hearing at which the Pintos were released on bail, the document continued, Pinto threatened Superintendent Assaf Wallfish, the chief investigator in the case, saying “I know how to deal with you … You’ll know in the coming days.”

The document also mentions one other episode: In September 2011, Chief Superintendent Yossi Pichon invited Pinto to his daughter’s wedding. Pichon was a senior officer in the police’s international investigations division, which was investigating a case of attempted extortion against Pinto. Pinto responded to the invitation by saying he intended to give Pichon $10,000, but Pichon refused. Prosecutors believe this was another attempted bribe.

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Written by

Gidi Weitz

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Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto Suspected of Bribing Police and Intimidating Witnesses

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