Following months of investigation, Israel Police on Wednesday night 4-5 Nissan arrested 21 people suspected of involvement in a blackmail ring. The suspects are reportedly all affiliated with the so-called Yerushalmi branch, the Bnei Torah party headed by Rav Shmuel Auerbach.
It is alleged that during the last year they harassed, threatened, and extorted senior managers and executives from large companies and government companies in an effort to persuade them to advertise in the party-affiliated ‘HaPeles’ newspaper.
Twenty-one people were arrested after police investigated complaints of threats and harassment via telephone, email and fax. Arrests were made in the capital, Bnei Brak, Ashdod, Yerucham, and Modi’in Illit.
The police message to the media read “Following an undercover investigation for the past half year the Fraud Division of the Jerusalem District arrested 21 suspects around Israel. The suspects during the past year allegedly harassed, intimidated and threatened senior executives in companies and government companies in an effort to compel them to advertise in HaPeles”.
According to the evidence gathered by police, the efforts to compel others to advertise in the newspaper go back as far as two years. Some of the people who turned to police are active in Yahadut Hatorah.
Police officials explain that those in custody would call the “struggle hotline” daily and identify themselves with a code name, password and caller ID from their phone number, and only then would they receive the day’s assignment.
They were instructed to harass and intimidate.
The recipients received hundreds of calls, faxes and emails, so much so that it interfered with their ability to conduct business as usual.
The harassment in some cases led to the companies canceling ads elsewhere in the hope of turning off the calls, faxes and emails.
Police add that 200 policepersons were involved in the arrests, including detectives, Yassam commando police, border police and undercover agents.
The suspects were taken to the Lahav 433 (FBI) headquarters.
Two of the suspects, both residents of the capital, are viewed as the main players in the operation. They are both from the chareidi sector. Among those in custody is a leading personality in the Yerushalmi camp, A.T. (name on file), is believed to be the mastermind behind the operation. Police raided his home in the Ramot neighborhood of the capital, he was arrested and taken into custody.
Chareidi media reports state officials affiliated with Degel Hatorah are pleased arrests have finally been made and they hope police take the severity of the actions of those involved seriously and act appropriately.
But you can't have an Iphone!