Jerusalem – After a three-year long investigation, Guy Cohen, former CEO of the ultra-Orthodox news site Behadrey Haredim, and his deputy Uri Zur, have been indicted, charged with blackmailing high profile rabbis and businessmen.
Blackmail victims were forced to buy ad space for a considerable price in exchange for the removal of negative stories posted about them on the site, Ha’aretz reports.
Unsealed this week in Jerusalem District Court, the 11 count indictment includes charges for extortion and blackmail against Haredi organizations and individuals between 2010 and 2012.
The indictment states “the defendant had threatened to illicitly harm a person, his livelihood, property, and reputation and to breach his privacy by threatening to publish, or not to publish, content regarding himself or another person . . . [they] extorted them with threats, conditioning the removal of the comments on receiving payment.”
In one case, victim Yaakov Berger was given a deal by Cohen that would allow him to “sleep quietly” after a clip of Berger surfaced showing him engaged in an alleged adulterous incident at a Berger family affair.
Berger requested that the clip be removed, but was told he’d have to buy a “first class” service with a one year commitment.
When Berger refused, Behadrey Haredim ran an article entitled, “Expose! Berger and the compromise agreement” which said a photographer from a Jerusalem hotel and a private eye’s secret intelligence gathering had resulted in a compromise deal between Berger and his wife.
Rabbis Eliezer Berland and Yoshiyhu Pinto were also targeted after negative reports on the site surfaced against them. Cohen told Berland’s aides that a deal could be reached for 30,000 shekels a month “to create a positive image for the community.”
In most cases, the defendants told their victims that negative coverage could only be removed in exchange for an “overall advertising deal” which would provide “protection from posting negative or offensive content on the forum.” The agreement between the plaintiffs and the defendants was a verbal one.
Although many news editors, journalists and public relations agents from the Haredi community were involved in some of the cases, no charges were filed against them.
The news site is now under new management with Meir Gal at the helm.