An alleged cult that abused women and children was uncovered operating in Jerusalem and Tiberias, police and the Social Affairs Ministry revealed yesterday.
A 55-year-old man is suspected of leading the cult and of abusing women and children over a two-year period. The allegations include sexual abuse, imprisonment and enslavement.
Along with the alleged cult leader, two other men have been arrested on suspicion of assisting him, including a 43 year old who is accused of meting out punishment to the women and children.
Five children of the main suspect in the case, who are in their twenties, denied the police allegations. "They saw a family that didn't fit the mold that everyone knows so they said clearly the law is being broken," one of them said.
The police conducted a 10-week investigation, conducted both in the open and undercover, of the activities of the alleged cult and in July arrested the 55-year-old suspect, a resident of Jerusalem, who originally immigrated from France and was a follower of the Breslav Hasidic movement.
The investigation found that over the past 10 years the man was unofficially married to six different women, most of whom were divorced and with children over whom the man was said to have had total control.
About a year and a half ago, one of the children from the group approached the Jerusalem police to complain about the man. The police then opened an investigation over suspicions of polygamy and indecent assault but the case was closed due to lack of evidence.
The Social Affairs Ministry said it did not negligently handle the case, adding that in the absence of evidence of a criminal offense or harm to an individual, the ministry is not authorized to investigate what is going on in a household.
Two and a half months ago, another young girl came forward to complain who had lived with the cult of her own accord for two years and who decided to leave it and filed her complaint about half a year after her departure.
According to the investigation findings, over the past two years, the level of physical and psychological abuse committed by the leader of the alleged cult accelerated. He is also said to have sent the women and children around the country to collect money to finance his lifestyle.
The women and children are said to have given false accounts of how they were injured when they sought medical treatment following alleged abuse, saying for example, that they had fallen down stairs to avoid arousing the authorities' suspicions. About a month ago, however, a joint team of police and Social Affairs Ministry personnel raided the compound where the group lived, arresting the three men and taking the leader's six unofficial wives into custody.
The alleged cult leader's lawyer yesterday denied any illegal conduct on his client's part. Indictments in the case are expected to be filed tomorrow.