South African police have confirmed that they nearly nabbed the fugitive "Shuvu Banim" Hassidic leader Rabbi Eliezer Berland on Sunday, and further revealed that an international arrest warrant has been issued against him.
Plainclothes police were hiding among attendees at a wedding ceremony Berland was preparing for one of his followers. Local hassidim hid the rabbi at the last moment before police arrested him, a source close to the sect told Arutz Sheva.
“We do confirm that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (also known as the Hawks) is working with the Israeli government to track Rabbi (Berland),” Captain Paul Ramaloko, National Spokesperson for the Hawks, told the South African Jewish Report on Wednesday.
Ramaloko elaborated that Berland "is a wanted person in Israel. An international warrant of arrest has been issued against him, and his name has been red flagged."
Berland's followers claim that the fugitive rabbi, who is on the run after facing sexual assault charges in Israel, is legally allowed to stay in Johannesburg, and one follower said "from the first moment we got here, senior figures in the Jewish community were trying to exile the Rabbi."
Nevertheless, a senior member of the sect in Israel named Yossi (sect members reportedly have no last names) told Jewish Report that the crackdown was unexpected.
"At the wedding people were shocked. A couple of weeks ago (Berland) was given an extension of his visa. Since then he has been coming to pray with his followers almost every day," said Yossi.
According to the senior sect member Shuvu Banim had not been told about the international arrest warrant. He went on to say "we suspect that a lot of people in Johannesburg are becoming jealous as more and more Jews are choosing to study with Rabbi Berland."
Berland was accused of committing indecent acts against several young female followers; he was wanted in Israel for questioning. Berland fled Israel before he could be arrested, however, wandering from the US to Italy, and Switzerland.
His flight continued from Marrakech, Morocco, and then on to Zimbabwe, before arriving in South Africa approximately in April.