An Israeli court has rejected a plea bargain with former chief rabbi Yona Metzger, handing down a harsher sentence of four-and-a-half years in prison on an array of charges ranging from fraud and money laundering to bribery.
On Thursday, Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Yo’ad Hacohen dismissed the prosecution’s plea deal under which 63-year-old Metzger was expected to serve three-and-a-half years in prison, and added a year to the sentence.
The judge told the former chief rabbi that if the plea deal had not been signed with the prosecution, he would have sentenced him to seven years in prison.
Court documents said Metzger would begin to serve out his sentence at the Nitzan Prison in Ramle on May 3, 2017.
Metzger pleaded guilty on January 30 to a raft of corruption under the plea deal. In addition to the three-and-a-half years jail term, the ex-chief rabbi had agreed to confiscation of his apartment in Jerusalem al-Quds, a fine and back taxes.
Under the deal, Metzger was convicted of accepting five million Israeli shekels ($1.3 million) in bribes, down from 10 million in the original indictment, while other charges – including fraud, breach of trust, and money laundering – were to be dropped.
In March 2016, Metzger was accused of accepting some 10 million shekels ($2.6 million) in bribes, and keeping about seven million shekels ($1.8 million) of it for himself.
Police said he had stashed more than 700,000 Israeli shekels ($200,000) with his sister in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, and a search of his home turned up 40,000 shekels (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 later investigations found the claim to be unfounded.
He stepped down as Israel’s chief rabbi on July 24, 2013 after 10 years in office.
Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi and the other Sephardi, whose responsibilities include running rabbinical courts and regulating the kosher food supervision industry.