Police have released Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger on condition of “house arrest” for five says, during which time he is forbidden from leaving the country or making contact with anyone under investigation on charges of bribery and money laundering.
Police questioned Rabbi Metzger for 10 hours before releasing him close to midnight Thursday night.
He vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Police have taken into custody Rabbi Metzger’s aide, Chaim Eizenstein, for eight days. Also being held for six and seven days respectively are officials of two non-profit organizations, Beit HaTavshil director Simcha Karkovsky and Ben Zion Tzioni, head of the Tzedaka V’Mishpat.
Israeli fraud squad officers raided Rabbi Metzger’s home and office Thursday morning following an undercover probe the past several months. Police received authorization from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador to carry out the raid and arrests.
Police confiscated computers and documents and opened bank accounts.
The Chief Rabbi allegedly pocketed hundreds of thousands of shekels, and possibly more, that were intended for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Also questioned and eventually arrested were one of the rabbi’s aides and two NGO officials.
Other arrests are expected.
The probe is the latest in a lengthening list of investigations of Israeli public figures, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was acquitted on two major charges and found guilty on one count, and suspended Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The suspicions against Rabbi Metzger are grave, and if indictments are filed, the case would be a bombshell for an Israeli public that is increasingly distrustful of the police, politicians and judges.
Nevertheless, the timing of the indictment against Lieberman and the questioning of Lieberman is interesting. Accusations and investigations against Lieberman dragged on for more than 10 years before an indictment was filed late last year, coincidentally around the time new elections were scheduled.
Rabbi Metzger, from the Haredi community, is being questioned days before the election of new chief rabbis. The two leading candidates for the Ashkenazi post are Haredi Rabbi David Lau and national religious Rabbi David Stav.