Jerusalem police arrest four ultra-Orthodox men in fake kollel scam

Men arrested for allegedly defrauding the Education Ministry of millions of shekels through a fictitious Torah study center.

Haaretz, Israel/March 21, 2012

Jerusalem police have arrested three ultra-Orthodox men for allegedly defrauding the Education Ministry of millions of shekels through a fictitious Torah study center.

Following the arrests on Sunday a fourth man, from Jerusalem, was arrested yesterday in connection with the nonexistent center. Jerusalem police expect further arrests in the case.

The three men from Betar Ilit and Beit Shemesh are suspected of inventing a fictional kollel - a yeshiva for married men - and of pocketing the NIS 300 they received for each "student" every month from the Education Ministry.

Those whose names and identity card numbers were submitted to the ministry as students of the kollel told police they had no idea their names were being used.

"That's NIS 300 a month multiplied by two years and dozens of 'students,'" a police officer told Haaretz yesterday. "Do the math yourself."

Police are expected this morning to request that the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court extend the the detention of the Betar Ilit and Beit Shemesh men.

The nonexistent study center, called Iyun Torah, was registered on the Education Ministry's list of Beit Shemesh study centers.

The first three men were arrested following a complaint by an ultra-Orthodox man from Beit Shemesh who told police that he received a text message on his cell phone, telling him to arrive at the address of the fictional study center. The text message asked him to show up as soon as possible since the Education Ministry was about to conduct a surprise visit to the center. The man told the police he had never heard of the kollel and assumed it was a scam.

Yesterday police summoned for questioning ultra-Orthodox men who appeared on the lists submitted to the Education Ministry in the past two years.

Despite the fact that all those questioned denied they knew of the make-believe kollel or its heads, fraud unit investigators are not convinced that none of the listed men were aware of the scam. Investigators believe the fact that a text message was sent could indicate a system of cooperation between the heads of the fictitious center and some of the men.

Police are also checking whether the arrested men had a contact inside the Education Ministry, as in other similar scams that were uncovered in recent years.

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