SAO PAULO – Local police yesterday arrested an ultra-Orthodox rabbi suspected of seriously abusing Jerusalem children, one of whom is in a vegetative state.
Police officers nabbed Rabbi Elior Chen on a street corner in the Bom Retiro neighborhood after conducting an extensive search through the Jewish neighborhood.
"Apparently he was being protected by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Sao Paulo, who supposedly didn’t know about the accusations against him in Israel," said Menoti Barros de Oliveira, the Interpol sheriff in Sao Paulo. "He was found alone, in the street of Julio Conceicao, so we think he was already separated from his peers."
Chen is considered the spiritual leader of a Jerusalem sect that was found to have abused young children, two of whom, aged 3 and 4, were hospitalized in March in critical condition.
Earlier yesterday, Chen was reported to have turned himself over to the Brazilian police. Later in the day, however, Sao Paulo police informed their counterparts in Israel that he had not turned himself in, but was arrested.
Chen’s lawyer Ariel Atari yesterday denied reports that Chen had been arrested, and insisted he had turned himself over. "When Elior Chen arrived at the Sao Paulo police department in the morning, he threw police into great confusion. None of them expected him to turn himself in," Atari said.
"Israeli police did not ask the Brazilian police to carry out an extensive search for him," Moti Edri, a police official in Jerusalem, said. "It was the Brazilian police’s own initiative, undertaken due to a similar case of child abuse there recently."
Police sources say Chen’s extradition is currently awaiting approval by the Brazilian Supreme Court. They expect him to be extradited to Israel within a few weeks. Chen had fled Israel to Canada with his wife and their four children three months ago after the arrest of a Jerusalem mother, who was apparently one of his disciples, on suspicion that she severely abused her eight children at Chen’s bidding. The mother was indicted for allegedly burning her 3- and 4-year-old, making them eat feces and locking them in a suitcase for days at a time, among other charges.
When he arrived in Brazil, local authorities detained Chen’s wife and children, yet he evaded arrest. Hoping to pressure Chen’s wife into turning him in, Brazilian authorities removed the children from their mother’s custody and placed them with a foster family for two days, after which they were returned to their mother.