Three of the attorneys defending Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto have filed for withdrawal from the corruption case in the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday, after the rabbi violated terms of his plea agreement.
The attorneys, all of whom hail from the law offices of Zeligman-Goldfarb, have been named as Moshe Mazor, Ro'i Bichler and Eli Zahar, reports Walla! News.
The three have represented the rabbi for a long time and have negotiated, persistently, with the prosecutor's office to sign the plea agreement.
Pinto admitted guilt in a corruption scandal with police investigative unit Lahav 433 Commander Menashe Arbiv, in exchange for leniency and reduction of charges.
However, one key element in the agreement was to refuse interviews - a deal broken after Pinto's wife spoke to Channel 2 news last week, claiming she and her husband were innocent of all charges.
Analysts following the case claim that this singular violation is probably not enough to deter the attorneys from continuing to represent Pinto, especially after campaigning diligently for the plea deal.
As such, speculation remains over what else Pinto may have violated in the agreement - enough to prevent the attorneys from facing the State Attorney's Office over the blunder.
While several at the Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office were reportedly happy to see the deal up for cancellation - especially outspoken opponent, attorney Eli Schwartz - the Justice Ministry has not yet decided to cancel the arrangement.
In the meantime, Mazor, Bichler, and Zahar have been replaced by attorneys Yaron Lipsker and Eyal Rosovsky.
Scandal runs deep
Earlier this year, the Attorney General's Office stated it would file an indictment against Rabbi Pinto, the head of the "Shuvu Yisrael" sect who is embroiled in a corruption scandal.
Pinto allegedly attempted to bribe senior police officer Ephraim Bracha with $200,000 for information about a pending police investigation into the Hazon Yeshaya charity organization, which Pinto was allegedly closely involved with. Bracha immediately reported the incident to his superiors, prompting a separate investigation against Rabbi Pinto himself.
That investigation revealed that Pinto allegedly tried to bribe several other officers for information about the case against Hazon Yeshaya. The charity, which was supposed to have provided millions of dollars to Holocaust survivors and ran a popular soup kitchen and volunteer network in Jerusalem, closed in 2012 under allegations of fraud.
The allegations claim that several members of the charity - including Pinto - stole much of the food donated to the kitchen and sold it for "tens of millions of dollars," according to a 2012 Ha'aretz article. As such, Pinto will also be indicted for other charges, including obstruction of justice and money laundering relating to the case.
In addition, Pinto's associates claim that Arbiv, the former commander of the Lahav 433, received various benefits, including help receiving a visa to the United States for his son and wife.
To this end, the rabbi allegedly gave $2,000 to Arbiv's son every month, as well as a 700,000 shekel ($190,000) discount for the senior police officer to buy a home in an exclusive section of northern Tel Aviv. The associates added that the rabbi and his aides also helped Arbiv when he served as a representative of the Israeli Police in the US.
Despite admitting to involvement in the crimes, Pinto himself has been highly vocal over his innocence, claiming in hyperbolic statements to his followers that the verdict has "stabbed them with a million knives" and claiming he is "the most persecuted in this generation."