JOHANNESBURG – Israeli fugitive Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who is wanted in his home country for sex crimes, was denied bail on Thursday at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court.
Berland, who is the leader of the Shuvu Bonim Hassidic sect in Jerusalem, allegedly fled Israel in 2012 after he was accused of sex crimes by some of his female followers.
The 78-year-old rabbi has in the past given authorities in other countries the slip to avoid extradition to Israel.
While on the run the fugitive rabbi has resided in the US, Switzerland, Morocco, Netherlands and Zimbabwe with a band of devoted followers.
The rabbi was arrested in Amsterdam, Netherlands, last year, but he escaped before he could be extradited to Israel. Berland made his way back to South Africa, having previously sought shelter there after being expelled from Zimbabwe in 2014.
Denying the rabbi bail, Magistrate Pravena Raghunandan said there was no supporting evidence that Berland’s life was in danger while he was in the Netherlands, which was the reason he gave for breaching his bail conditions and slipping out of that country.
The magistrate said Berland was a “flight risk” and could not be released.
She said the court was also concerned that Berland’s Ivorian passport had a South African permit that had expired which meant that he was illegally in the country.
Raghunandan ordered that the fugitve rabbi remain in custody while he awaited the decision of the Minister of Justice on whether he should be extradited to Israel or not.
Earlier defence attorney Themba Langa, who noted that the case had been going on for 21 days, said the State’s assertion that Berland’s documents were not valid was false.
Langa also accussed Interpol of “planting the false Israeli passport” on his client, Berland.
“Rabbi Berland has nothing to do with the false passport,” Langa told the court.
An ugly exchange of words between Langa and the magistrate ensued.
Raghunandan warned Langa against claiming that the State planted increminating evidence. She said Langa was being manipulative.
“I don’t like your tendancy of insulting me in an open court and you are being personal,” retorted Langa.
Court adjourned for a few minutes following the exchange.
“What do you want to do now? Would you like to make an applications for my recusal?” Raghunandan asked after she resumed proceedings.
“No I will not be making one,” Langa responded.
Langa said his client was willing to pay R250,000 towards his bail and to wear a tracking bracelet.
However, Raghunandan asked the defense what would happen if Berland felt his life was in danger in South Africa, like he did in the Netherlands, where he absconded while on bail.
The defense was unable to answer the magistrate’s question.
State Prosecutor Nerisha Naidoo said despite Berland’s health problems and advanced age he remained a flight risk.
“The only conclusion that the State can come to is that there is a dire need for him to be released because he wants to flee. He doesn’t work alone. Letting him out on bail is a risky decision.”
Berland will remain in coustody until a decision is made on his extradition to Israel. South Africa and Israel do not have an extradition treaty.