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Israeli police arrest former chief rabbi on suspicion of corruption

JERUSALEM -- Israel's former chief rabbi was arrested Monday on suspicion of taking bribes, defrauding charities and obstructing an investigation, police said. 

A gag order in connection with the arrest was lifted later in the day when the rabbi, Yona Metzger, was brought before a judge and remanded to police custody for an additional nine days.  

According to police, Metzger, who recently ended a 10-year term as the country's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, is suspected of diverting donations made to nonprofit organizations in return for bribes and benefits. He is also suspected of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust worth millions of dollars, police say.

At a court hearing Monday, David Libai, Metzger’s attorney, said he was “stunned and surprised by the accusations” and suggested that someone was either making false claims against Metzger or framing him.

Metzger has been investigated several times in connection with suspected corruption during his tenure as chief rabbi, a government position.

A probe in 2005 delved into allegations that he received perks worth thousands of dollars from a Jerusalem hotel. It did not yield an indictment, but it prompted the attorney general at the time to call for Metzger's resignation or removal from office. 

Metzger was still in public office this June when police raided his house after a months-long undercover investigation of fraud and money laundering. He was placed under house arrest and temporarily barred from leaving the country.

The chief rabbi denied the allegations then but announced he was removing himself from part of his official duties. He was eventually released from house arrest and no formal charges were brought.

Metzger's term as chief Ashkenazi rabbi (there is also a chief Sephardic rabbi) ended in August.

In court Monday, Libai asked a police official if Metzger had been arrested on the same suspicions that led to his arrest in June. The official, Asaf Valfish, said the new arrest was partially based on new information.

Police revealed little about the case during the hearing, but Valfish was able to persuade the judge to keep Metzger incarcerated for at least another nine days.

Three other suspects, including the rabbi's driver and his personal assistant, have been arrested on suspicion of money laundering.

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