Johannesburg – Bizarre behaviour, unreasonable demands and continuous attempts to disrupt the court were the order of the day in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court on Thursday by an alleged sex-pest rabbi.
The bail application by the internationally wanted fugitive Israeli Rabbi Eliezer Berland set down for 11am only commenced at 2.45pm because of delays by the defence and prosecution who needed to peruse documents including the extradition request, which was only obtained in the morning.
Then, not long into proceedings, Berland interrupted the magistrate saying he was ill.
“I’ve already fainted 20 times,” he said.
At one point, Berland asked the magistrate if he could lie down on the bench as things were taking too long. “I would like to know if things could be sped up,” he said.
“Stay strong,” advised his lawyers.
The State and defence argued over why Berland’s previous representation was fired.
The State was deliberating over whether to bring charges of fraud against Berland for allegedly lying to the court after he claimed he wasn’t the one instructing his previous council to represent him in court while in hospital last week.
Advocate Mandla Zulu, now representing Berland under the instruction of attorney Themba Langa, said an intermediate and friend of Berland had hired and given instruction to the previous council, not Berland himself.
“Whatever happened, happened before, we can’t pay for it now. It was never our intention to delay this matter,” he said.
Details also emerged of his arrest last week. Zulu said Berland was on his way to court on April 7 when he felt ill and was taken to hospital for a check-up. “After his check-up, he planned to go to court,” Zulu claimed.
Berland was then arrested at Morningside Clinic by the Hawks who’d received information about his whereabouts.
State prosecutor advocate Nerisha Naidoo told the court that following Berland’s arrest, he said he was willing to “surrender himself to Israel” and asked if he could go back.
Naidoo asked that the case be postponed to a later date because the State hadn’t had enough time to go through the bail affidavit. “This bail application is not as urgent as Mr Berland is making it out to be. We have medical letters from the Joburg Gen and Morningside Clinic that he can be discharged into police custody,” she said.
In another twist, Berland’s lawyers insisted he be held at the Sandton police station if the case was postponed.
But this was turned down because Sandton police said they did not have the manpower to transport Berland to court or to hospital if and when needed.
“All accused are equal before the law; whichever facility he goes to, he will have access to a medical facility,” Naidoo said.
The magistrate ordered Berland be kept at the Randburg cells and that he could only be attended to by his doctor there.
Berland, who is the leader of Shuvu Bonim Hassidic sect in Jerusalem, fled Israel in 2012 after allegations of sexual harassment were made by some of his woman followers there.
He has sought refuge in several countries including Zimbabwe, Morocco, Switzerland and, most recently, Holland, where he managed to escape after being arrested.
This is the second time he has taken shelter in South Africa following several months spent in the country in 2014 prior to his stay in Holland. During that time he managed to evade the Hawks twice.
He will remain in custody at the Randburg police station until his reappearance for the bail hearing on Wednesday.