Rabbi Eliezer Berland, leader of the Shuvu Banim community, was extradited from South Africa and arrested after he landed in Israel on Tuesday, on suspicion of perpetrating sexual abuse and harassment, Israel Police said.
Hundreds of Berland supporters, many of whom were in their cars, were waiting outside the airport for the police van containing Berland.
Berland’s extradition marks the end of an international saga that began when he fled Israel more than three years ago after he was suspected of a number of sex crimes against women, namely in his community.
Followers of the rabbi said a group of them accompanied him on an El Al flight from Johannesburg.
“Rabbi Eliezer Berland’s extradition on suspicion of sex crimes has been completed,” police said in a statement. “After a continuous effort, the Israel Police arrested Rabbi Eliezer Berland, wanted for some time for investigation on suspicion of perpetrating sexual abuse and harassment,” a police statement said.
Police said Berland had left Israel in February 2013, while an investigation against him had been pending, and that they had made “intensive and continuous efforts to locate him and bring him to Israel so he could be questioned about the suspicions against him.
“As part of this effort, an extradition request was sent to the relevant authorities abroad and this morning his arrest has been completed,” police said.
A picture circulated by his supporters showed Berland getting off the plane at Ben-Gurion International Airport with a police escort, wrapped in tefillin and a prayer shawl.
Police added that a decision would be taken at a later time as to whether to bring Berland to court to extend his remand.
Berland’s lawyer said his decision to leave Israel had nothing to do with the investigation against him, of which “he did not know and could not know about.”
She said that he was now returning to Israel “of his own free will and out of his wish to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.”
“This is an elderly and man in his 80s, head of the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva… he trusts the authorities will end the matter quickly and efficiently. There is no doubt in our minds that the suspicions will be refuted once the investigation is concluded.