JERUSALEM: An Israeli court sentenced an influential rabbi to a year in prison on Tuesday for trying to bribe a senior policeman who heads the national fraud squad, court documents read.
Last month, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto admitted to giving 100,000 Swiss francs ($108,514/96,208 euros) to assistant police commissioner Ephraim Bracha.
An ultra-Orthodox rabbi who is revered as a spiritual leader, Pinto has a large following in both Israel and the United States, including among a number of senior politicians, police officers and businessmen.
Bracha was known to look up to the rabbi as his spiritual leader, and Pinto had been hoping that in return he would provide him with information on an ongoing investigation into one of his institutions.
But Bracha reported the attempted bribe to a superior, and Pinto was arrested and investigated. Police monitored the operation as the money was transferred between the two men’s wives at a hotel in 2012.
The rabbi eventually managed to secure a plea bargain involving a reduced prison term in exchange for information incriminating another senior police officer, commissioner Menashe Arviv, who headed the Israeli equivalent of the FBI.
Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday approved the plea bargain, under which Pinto admitted guilt to bribery, attempted bribery and obstructing justice, sentencing him to one year behind bars and a fine of a million shekels ($259,000/230,000 euros).
Pinto, 42, is a charismatic rabbi, a scion of a Moroccan rabbinic dynasty considered versed in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism.
He divides his time between the Israeli port city of Ashdod and the United States where he has established several Jewish educational and charitable networks.
He was ranked seventh richest rabbi in Israel in 2012 by Forbes Israel, based on the value of his institutions.
In Israel and the US, his followers include not only top-ranking police and military brass, but also senior politicians, businessmen and members of the media, most of them not observant.
But his legal problems have also extended to the United States, with allegations that his followers bribed Michael Grimm when he was a member of congress.
Grimm, a former FBI agent, resigned in January after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion in New York.
A separate civil complaint filed in New York last year claims Pinto orchestrated the arrest of a business competitor of an associate.
Pinto “was admired by many, in Israel and abroad,” said justice Oded Mudrik on Tuesday, listing his followers as businessmen, public servants, elected officials, celebrities and members of the public.
“He was a rabbi and leader to them,” he wrote.
Mudrik agreed to the defense’s request to postpone the start of Pinto’s sentence until June 28 to give him time to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court.