The owner of the ultra-Orthodox website Hadrei Haredim and two of his senior employees were arrested in Tel Aviv Sunday on suspicion of posting flattering articles and censoring negative talkbacks in exchange for money, Ynet reported.
On Monday the Jerusalem Magistrates' Court extended by four days the remand of one suspect, while the others were released to house arrest under restricted conditions.
- Op-ed:The fight for Israel
- Peres: Rabbis must shun extremism
- Petition: Prosecute authors of 'King's Torah'
The three are suspected of extorting rabbis, public officials and companies, forcing them to pay tens and hundreds of thousands of shekels - sometimes by way of launching ad campaigns on the Hadrei Haredim website – in exchange for the removal of talkbacks and articles that portray them in a negative light.
In some cases companies were offered to advertise on the site in exchange for the censoring of negative talkbacks and the publication of flattering articles.
A source who is familiar with the police investigation, launched secretly a few months ago, said that according to suspicions, negative comments about individuals and companies were posted in the website's forums. The companies and individuals were told the website would remove the comments for a hefty payment.
A representative for the prosecution said during the hearing that "a negative article about an important person – a businessman or a politician for instance – can cause him severe damage. This person wants the article removed. Those who were lucky paid the website's managers a few thousand shekels to have the article removed, while the less fortunate ones had to deal with the owner, who considered negative articles a huge business opportunity."
Attorney Sharon Keinan, who is representing the senior employee whose remand has been extended, said his client claims the "business transactions were completely legitimate."
Attorney Yair Golan, who represents another suspect, says his client "did not pocket any money from the alleged transactions and never extorted anyone." The lawyer said his client resigned from his position a few months ago.
Attorney Shlomi Sharon, who is representing the third suspect, said his client "is in complete shock. He's merely a hired worker. From what we heard during the court hearing, it is clear that the suspicions against him are unfounded."
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop