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Wednesday
Sep172014

Rabbi Pinto in plea deal with Israel prosecutor

A celebrity rabbi will plead guilty to bribing a senior police official and now faces up to a year in prison, Israel's Justice Ministry said Wednesday.

An indictment by the state prosecutor alleged that Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto offered $200,000 to Efraim Bracha, the former head of the investigations department in the Israeli police, in exchange for information about an investigation involving the rabbi and one of his organizations.

In 2012, at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv, Pinto's wife gave Bracha's wife an envelope with 100,000 Swiss Francs ($107,000) and promised more money, the indictment said.

But Bracha, a follower of the rabbi, had informed his bosses about the bribery offer. The police tracked Pinto's bribe payments and his attempts to learn confidential information about pending investigations.

As part of the plea bargain, Pinto agreed to testify against former Lahav 443 police commander Menashe Arbiv. Lahav 443 is known as the “Israeli FBI.”

Arbiv has denied accepting money and favors from Pinto. But he resigned from the police in February because of the accusations.

Pinto returned to Israel from his home in New York in May and was interrogated "as part of a final round of confirmation of whether his allegations against Arbiv were sound," the Jerusalem Post said.

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it illegal to give or promise to give anything of value to a foreign official to obtain or retain business or gain an unfair advantage. Anti-bribery offenses under the FCPA are punishable by up to five years in prison. Pinto hasn't been charged in the U.S.

Under the terms of the plea bargain, prosecutors can't ask for more than a year of prison time. But Pinto can ask the Tel Aviv district court for a shorter sentence, the Jerusalem Post said.

Rabbi Pinto 40, heads several prominent charities and Torah study institutions in Israel and the United States.

Among his followers are Jay Schottenstein, chairman of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing company, and Israeli real estate mogul Jacky Ben-Zaken.

His estimated net worth in 2012 was nearly $20 million.

The Israel indictment said when Pinto took over a local charity for Holocaust survivors and the needy, the organization's U.S. branch transferred $1.2 million to Pinto and his wife. The money, the indictment said, was used to pay for flights, hotels, child care, and allowances for relatives and friends.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.