Thandeka Moyo Chronicle Reporter— A FUGITIVE rabbi from Jerusalem who allegedly fled Israel where he is said to be facing numerous sexual abuse charges was on Monday arrested at his Bulawayo hideout and appeared in court yesterday facing charges of contravening a section of the Immigration Act. Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 77, was caught hibernating with a handful of faithfuls from Israel at the Holiday Inn on Monday evening after detectives from the Joshua Mqabuko Border Control got a tip-off that his visa had expired. Berland, who heads one of the largest Jewish educational institutions in Jerusalem, allegedly escaped to Zimbabwe under disguise following accusations of abusing underage girls and sleeping with numerous married women.
He pleaded guilty to a charge of remaining in Zimbabwe after the expiry of his visitor’s visa certificate before Bulawayo magistrate Sibongile Msipha and was remanded in custody to today.
Berland was represented by Sindiso Mazibisa of Cheda and Partners who told the court that his client was an internationally recognised religious leader of ill-health, on medication, as well as a married father of six children who had not committed any crime during his stay in Zimbabwe.
“My client is a respected rabbi in the Jewish community whose leadership is recognised even internationally. If it were not for media interests, he would not have been here today Your Worship.
“He is taking a cocktail of up to 10 medicines and survives on fish and vegetables. Further detention or a custodial sentence will embarrass him.” The State case led by Caroline Matanga is that on April 7 at around 7PM at Holiday Inn, detectives stationed at the Joshua Mqabuko border control approached him.
He was asked to produce his passport and permit which indicated he had overstayed in Zimbabwe as his visitor’s entry certificate permitting him to be in Zimbabwe had expired on March 24, 2014.
He was then arrested and detained at Bulawayo Central Police Station.
Rabbi Berland has for a number of weeks been living in various upmarket lodges in Bulawayo’s Kumalo suburb and leading worship in a synagogue in the same suburb. He arrived in the country in December last year under the guise of religious tourism.
Assistant Regional Immigration Officer Francis Mabika declined to comment on the issue but a senior official from the Department of Immigration revealed that Berland was under investigation.
The leader of the Jewish community in Bulawayo, Hylton Solomon, declined to comment when Rabbi Berland was exposed on Saturday. Back in his homeland, several Israeli women reported that the rabbi sexually harassed or raped them. The allegations came to light in 2012 when the newspaper Israel Hayom reported an incident in which one of Berland’s students encountered him at home standing beside a naked woman. His supporters expressed anger over the report and the person who leaked the story to the media was later violently attacked.
After the police opened an investigation, Berland immediately fled Israel and spent time in the United States, Italy and Switzerland. He then left for Morocco, settling in Marrakesh.
In November 2013, Berland and his students were ordered to leave Morocco after King Mohammed VI personally ordered their expulsion from the country. According to news reports, a Moroccan newspaper had published an article profiling the rabbi and mentioning the circumstances in which he fled Israel, and the king ordered Berland’s expulsion after reading the article.
Berland is thought to have left Morocco for Cairo, Egypt. He reportedly bought tickets for various destinations to confuse pursuers. This left many confused as to whether he was staying in Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was reported to have been taken in by a relative.
According to media reports, Berland’s son and grandson who are under indictment in Israel for money laundering, tax evasion and related criminal charges and several young women are willing to testify against him.
Among those that have been travelling with Berland is a man believed to be a wealthy businessman whose private jet they have been using. The businessman is also believed to have business interests in Zimbabwe and has partnered locals who reportedly include former Zimbabwe Football Association boss Henrietta Rushwaya.