Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger suspended himself on Sunday, three days after he was questioned by police in connection with alleged corruption, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and acceptance of bribes.
Police believe that he kept the equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds that were meant for non-profit organisations, and that he laundered money through the purchase of properties. He denies the allegations.
“The police are active, that’s a good sign,” said Michael Partem, vice-chairman of public life watchdog the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. “But on the negative side, this and recent scandals, especially with mayors, indicates a pervasive culture of kickbacks and corruption.”
Rabbi Metzger’s Sephardi counterpart was questioned under caution — though not indicted — eight years ago in relation to the kidnapping of a man who had an affair with his daughter.
Rabbi Metzger, who is just weeks away from the end of his ten-year term as Chief Rabbi, was placed under house arrest last Thursday after being called in for ten hours of police questioning.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that there had been an “undercover investigation that has been taking place for several months”.
Mr Rosenfeld confirmed that three of the rabbi’s associates have also been arrested.
The Rabbi Metzger arrest coincides with molestation claims against him, which were published in Maariv last Friday. Four men, two of whom took polygraph tests at the newspaper’s request and passed, alleged abuse in incidents since the 1980s. Rabbi Metzger denies the abuse allegations.
This is not the first police investigation into Rabbi Metzger’s activities. In 2005, he was probed for allegedly receiving freebies from a Jerusalem hotel. Although the case was closed, then-attorney general Menachem Mazuz designated him “unsuited for public office”. He kept his job, however.