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Sydney, Australia, Saturday, October 14, 2000

Jail not kosher for three in $42m laundering scheme

THREE members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, who admitted involvement in a $42 million international money-laundering scheme, have escaped going to jail mainly because of their religious beliefs.

The head of the family, Nachum Goldberg, 58, (right) who masterminded the racket, was jailed for five years and ordered to serve a minimum non-parole term of 2 years.

But his wife Rita, 56, and sons Napthali, 36, and Hershel, 34, were freed on suspended sentences, with Victorian County Court judge Michael Strong saying prison for them would be "extraordinarily difficult".

Judge Strong said few members of the public would have any understanding of the rigours of the "Adass strain of ultra-Orthodox Judaism".

He was satisfied the Goldbergs were genuinely devout in their beliefs in a sect which banned television, radio, cinema, alcohol and tobacco and newspapers other than certain Jewish publications.

All four Goldbergs had pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the Commonwealth.

"I am convinced that prison for a Jew of this level or orthodoxy would be extraordinarily difficult," Judge Strong said.

"Delivery of kosher food to the jail and concerns about its contamination would be a constant issue -- and absolutely vital for the prisoner."

The jail would not be able to provide for the observance of many Orthodox requirements for daily living. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish prisoners would be a prime target for "discrimination and abuse or worse by other prisoners because of their unusual appearance".

The same considerations applied to Naphtali and Hershel Goldberg.

He sentenced Rita Goldberg to 15 months, Napthali Goldberg to 12 months and Hershel Goldberg to nine months, all suspended.

Judge Strong said all three had played relatively minor roles in the scheme. Nachum Goldberg had been in complete control of the enterprise.

Judge Strong said that while it was impossible to determine the amount of tax evaded, it was likely to have exceeded $20 million.

He said the principal offenders had not come before the court. Judge Strong said the fraud in which the Goldbergs conspired was committed not by them but by the tax evaders themselves whom the Goldbergs refused to identify. The Goldbergs' "commission" earned from the money-laundering had been at least $800,000.

The scheme Nachum Goldberg operated masqueraded as a conduit for charitable funds to Israel, said the judge.

False documents and a sprinkling of legitimate charitable cheques maintained the charade.

"When the investigators tried to follow the money trail they hit a brick wall in the form of the refusal of the Israeli Government or the Israel banks to co-operate," the judge said.

Judge Strong sentenced the Goldbergs on June 21, but suppressed reporting of the sentences because disclosure of certain information in the sentencing remarks could have aborted another unrelated trial.


[Headline is original Sydney Morning Herald text]


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