A member of the ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor cult charged with mentally and physically abusing children has fled Israel ahead of his trial, his lawyer told Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday.
Rabbi Elazar Rompler, 46, was indicted in May for allegedly abusing two children aged 9 and 10 between 2009 and 2011, when he served as the principal of a school in Canada belonging to the sect.
While a hearing on Rompler’s case was scheduled for Tuesday morning, his attorney Gabriel Tronisoili informed the court that his client had left the country, leaving him a letter detailing the reasons for his departure.
Rompler was not under house arrest, though there was a warrant prohibiting him from leaving the country.
Israeli media reports said that he had fled to Guatemala, to where the sect relocated in 2014.
"He emphasizes that [his leaving the country] is not born out of contempt for the court, but out of a sense that in the face of the pressure exerted on him and on everything related to the Lev Tahor community, he would not receive a fair trial,” said Tronisoili.
In response, the prosecution requested 30 days to respond.
The charge sheet states that in 2009, Rompler had a child stripped of his clothes, tied up and beaten with a stick and a belt for several hours over suspicions he stole money from a charity box.
In another incident in 2011, Rompler allegedly instructed teachers at the school to hold a child down and beat him repeatedly for purportedly lying that he needed glasses.
The child was also allegedly held down by teachers and beat repeatedly on his back and buttocks while the defendant spoke to the student body that had assembled to watch about the sin of telling lies.
Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, has frequently moved from country to country in efforts to escape criminal charges.
In 2014, it relocated to Guatemala from Canada following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child-marriages and separating children from their parents.
In September, the sect requested political asylum in Iran.