Judge Throws Out Plea Deal, Jails Ex-Chief Rabbi For 4.5 Years

In a rare move, a Jerusalem judge on Thursday rejected a plea deal for former chief rabbi Yona Metzger, handing down a harsher sentence of four and a half years in prison on a slew of bribery and corruption charges.

District Court Judge Moshe Yo’ad Hacohen told Metzger that if the plea deal had not been signed with the prosecution, he would have sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment, according to court documents.

Metzger pleaded guilty on January 30 to a raft of corruption charges involving some NIS 10 million ($2.6 million), based on a plea deal that recommended he be jailed for three and a half years.

Metzger confessed to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting bribes.

In addition to a prison term, the court will decide how long Metzger will be on probation and will foreclose on an apartment in his name in central Tel Aviv.

He was also to pay NIS 5 million ($1.3 million) in fines, a court spokesperson said last month.

Tacking on the extra year to his sentence, Hacohen accused Metzger of running a “corrupt business venture” and undermining the public trust.

He noted in the sentence that while courts generally uphold plea bargain arrangements, the facts of the case which saw the corruption extend over a period of several years and Metzger’s senior public position left him no choice but to make the final sentence more severe.

The court documents said Metzger would begin to serve out his sentence at the Nitzan Prison in Ramle on May 3, 2017, at 9 a.m.

The plea deal had come after months of negotiations between Metzger’s attorneys and senior officials in the State Attorney’s Office.

Metzger was accused in March 2016 of accepting some NIS 10 million in bribes through various nonprofit groups, and keeping about NIS 7 million ($1.8 million) of it for himself.

He stepped down as chief rabbi on July 24, 2013, due to the fraud investigation against him, just before the conclusion of his 10-year term in office.

Police said Metzger had stashed about $200,000 with his sister in Haifa, and a search of his home turned up NIS 40,000 (over $11,300 at the time) in cash hidden in various books.

Metzger initially contended that the money in Haifa came from an inheritance, but the investigation found that claim to be untrue.

According to the indictment, various nonprofit organizations connected with the rabbi during his term in office received millions of shekels in donations, some of which Metzger allegedly took for his personal use.

In addition to profiting from donations to charitable causes, he was also accused of taking bribes meant to sway his opinion on matters he attended to as chief rabbi.

Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, or of European Jewish heritage, and one Sephardi, hailing from Jewish communities of the Muslim world.

Their responsibilities include running the rabbinical courts and regulating the kosher food supervision industry.

Metzger was voted into the prestigious position in 2003 with the support of the senior ultra-Orthodox rabbinical authorities at the time.

In 2005, he was questioned on suspicion of receiving benefits from a hotel in Jerusalem in return for favors, and police recommended he be tried for fraud and breach of trust.

But the attorney general at the time, fearing an unsuccessful prosecution, decided against indicting him.

Instead, he wrote a scathing report about Metzger, accusing him of lying to police and recommending that he resign immediately.

2 replies
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    הרב יונה מצגר, לשעבר הרב הראשי לישראל, הגיב הערב (חמישי) להחלטת בית המשפט לדחות את עסקת הטיעון שגיבשו עורכי דינו עם הפרקליטות.

    בית המשפט המחוזי בירושלים החליט להאריך את עונשו של הרב ל-4.5 שנות מאסר ולא 3.5 שנים כפי שנקבע בהסדר הטיעון.

    בשיחה עם חדשות 10 אמר הרב מצגר: “אני חייב להודות שאני המום וכואב, וחושב שזה עדיין בר תיקון. חתמתי על עסקת טיעון כי חשבתי שיש בזה עניין אישי לחסוך עינוי דין וכאב מהמשפחה שלי וגם נלקחת אחריות כאיש ציבור – לחתום ולסיים את הפרשה”.

    שופט בית המשפט המחוזי, משה יועד הכהן, אמר כי “העונש שהיה ראוי לגזור לנאשם, בתוך המתחם שקבעתי לעיל, אלמלא הסדר הטיעון, עומד על 7 שנות מאסר בפועל”.

    השופט הוסיף, “אין בידי לאשר את ההסדר שאליו הגיעו הצדדים, בכל הנוגע לקביעת עונש המאסר. זאת בשל נסיבותיהם החמורות והמסלידות של העבירות בהן הורשע ובשל מאפייניהן. כעולה מהן קיים הנאשם, תוך שימוש בתפקידו הציבורי הרם ובמעמד, בהשפעה ובקשרים שהקנה לו, מעין ‘מיזם עסקי’ מסועף ושיטתי שהתמשך לאורך שנים, שמטרתו קבלת שלמונים בסכומים גבוהים מגורמים שונים ומגוונים”.

  2. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yonah Metzger, said he was “stunned” by a court’s decision Thursday to discard a plea bargain agreement and extend his jail term by one year.

    A Jerusalem district court threw out a plea bargain arrangement which would have allowed Rabbi Metzger to serve three-and-a-half years behind bars. Instead, Judge Moshe Yoad Hacohen sentenced Rabbi Metzger to four-and-a-half years in jail.

    Speaking with Channel 10 Thursday evening, Rabbi Metzger said he was “stunned” by the judge’s ruling.

    “I must admit to you that I am stunned and pained, but I think that this still can be amended. I signed a plea bargain agreement because I felt that there was a personal reason to do so in order to reduce the suffering of my family, and also to take responsibility as a public figure – to sign it and end the whole affair.”

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