TORONTO (JTA) — The leader of the fringe haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor may have used false evidence to gain refugee status in Canada, a Canadian documentary reported.
Ottawa’s granting of refugee status to Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was based in part on testimony paid for by the sect, a boy involved at the hearing told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. program “the fifth estate.”
The documentary, which aired Friday, alleged that Shai Fima, the boy who was at the center of Helbrans’ 1996 kidnapping conviction in the United States, was paid $5,000 to appear on videotape at Helbrans’ hearing denying that he was kidnapped and saying the rabbi was being unfairly persecuted.
Helbrans argued successfully at his 2003 hearing that as an anti-Zionist, he would be persecuted if he returned to Israel. He was admitted as a refugee despite his American criminal conviction for kidnapping, for which he served two years in jail, and was then deported to his native Israel. Fima, who did not want to appear on camera, is quoted as saying he was not kidnapped.
Fima’s claim that he was paid by the sect is “absolutely false and a lie,” Helbrans told the CBC. Another sect member said Lev Tahor did pay for Fima’s airplane ticket from Israel to Canada, but not for his testimony.
Helbrans’ claim included testimony from a man who is now the spokesman for Lev Tahor, whose members fled Quebec last fall and have settled in rural Ontario. Uriel Goldman testified that as a young intelligence soldier in the Israeli army, he was ordered to spy on Helbrans.
The Israeli military has no record of Goldman, “the fifth estate” reported. When questioned, Goldman said he did not want to talk about his testimony at the refugee hearing.
“I know that Israel is watching very carefully,” he said in the documentary. “I think you can understand. I don’t want to receive one day a bullet from a Mossad agent if it gets ugly.”
Sect members are appealing an Ontario court decision to place 13 Lev Tahor children in foster care amid allegations of physical abuse, neglect, underage marriages and forced medication.