Israel probes bribery claim involving famous rabbi

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Associated Press

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 8:03 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 16 at 8:06 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Justice Ministry said Thursday it is looking into claims that the head of Israel's elite anti-corruption police unit received bribes from the associates of a multimillionaire celebrity rabbi with a strong following in the U.S. and worldwide.

In a statement, the Justice Ministry said Israel's attorney general and state prosecutor received information in recent weeks that officer Menashe Arbiv, head of a unit known as Israel's FBI, and his family received "benefits" from associates of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, considered one of Israel's wealthiest rabbis with congregations and charitable institutions in the U.S. and Israel.

The Justice Ministry would not elaborate on the claims or identify the Pinto associates under suspicion. It said Arbiv has not yet been questioned.

Arbiv denies wrongdoing, and has taken temporarily leave of his position pending investigation, said Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Arbiv heads the national police's Lahav 433 unit, which conducts investigations into national and international crimes and corruption. He recently served as Israel's police representative in the U.S., coordinating with U.S. security organizations on investigations.

Rabbi Pinto has been under the magnifying glass before. In late 2012, Israel placed him under house arrest and banned him from traveling abroad while investigating allegations that he bribed a high-ranking officer for access to his police file. The Justice Ministry said Thursday the police officer was not found to have done any wrongdoing, but Pinto is still being investigated.

Pinto's congregation has also been connected to a U.S. probe into Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican congressman from New York, for possible campaign finance violations.

The Israeli investigation revives concerns in Israel about close relationships between Pinto and senior officers, politicians, celebrities and business leaders. A recent ranking by Forbes Israel estimated Pinto to be Israel's seventh richest rabbi with a net worth of some $21 million.

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