Sex offender Eliezer Berland has been arrested in Jerusalem on allegations of fraud, tax evasion and exploitation-related offences, along with five other suspects, Haaretz reports. His wife was also reportedly detained. The suspects are to appear in front of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court which is to decide on their detention. More arrests are said to follow.
The Israel police state that they are suspected of “cynically and cruelly exploiting hundreds of people and their family members, who probably were in their darkest hour, while demanding them to pay the rabbi tens of thousands of shekels in exchange for his blessings”, while the rabbi allegedly gave followers candy instead of medications.
Additionally, as Channel 13 News reported last year, the rabbi demanded considerable sums of money from a cancer patient and forbade her from obtaining medical treatment, letting her turn to doctors only several months later after her situation had deteriorated. The woman eventually died. As journalists reported, her story was by no means unique.
As Haaretz’s earlier reports suggested, Berland, who led the Shuvu Banim Hasidic community, is hailed by his most devoted supporters as God incarnate, endowed with “superhuman powers.” Their support has not been shaken by the criminal case against him, as he was convicted of two counts of sexual acts against women without consent and assault after several years on the run and extradition from South Africa.
The original indictment accused him of abusing his position of trust within the community and committing offenses against minors. However, a later indictment, drafted after his confession, dropped molestation charges as part of his plea bargain. After signing the plea deal, he was sentenced to 18 months behind bars in 2016. He was released less than a year later, however, on parole.