SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – An American-born rabbi living in Australia has been cleared of multiple fraud-related charges over a Hebrew school.
Rabbi Yossi Engel and his wife, Chana, were cleared Tuesday in Magistrates’ Court in Adelaide on 39 counts of dishonestly dealing with documents relating to the Spirit of David Hebrew School, which prosecutors claimed was a scam in order to receive government grants of $50,000.
The case against the Engels was dismissed after police tendered no evidence, despite an investigation dating back several years.
“I can get on with serving the people of South Australia,” Rabbi Engel said outside the court. “My name is now clear. I’m incredibly grateful to God for this, and I’m extremely happy now that I’m able to do what I want to do, which is serve the people of South Australia and the Jewish community here.”
The Engels maintained their innocence from the moment the allegations were raised in 2007.
Engel, 41, a Chabad-Lubavitcher from New York, moved to Adelaide in 1998 and was appointed to the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, but his tenure was terminated in December 2006, sparking an acrimonious legal battle that split the community and wound up in the Supreme Court of South Australia. The judge ruled in favor of the city’s only Orthodox synagogue.
Engel then opened his own Chabad congregation, which is believed to draw 30 to 40 worshipers on Shabbat.
Adelaide, a dwindling Jewish community on the edge of the Australian Outback, has fewer than 1,000 members, a small Jewish school that has been battling to stave off closure and a Progressive temple.