29 Nov 2019 13:26

Moscow court arrests U.S. rabbi in absentia in Schneerson library case

MOSCOW. Nov 29 (Interfax) - The Tverskoi District Court of Moscow has sanctioned the arrest in absentia of Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber Levine, the director of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library based in the United States, who is charged with failure to return books from the Schneerson collection to Russia.

"The investigator's motion on Shalom Dov-Ber Levine's arrest in absentia has been granted. The measure of restraint in the form of two-month [arrest] is to begin from the moment of his detention or extradition to Russia," a court representative told Interfax.

The Russian investigators charged the rabbi in absentia with the failure to return culturally valuable items to Russia. He was initially added to federal wanted lists and subsequently declared wanted internationally.

The court did not clarify the charges. However, according to media, the charges were brought against 71-year-old Levine in May 2019. According to the investigators, he is an "active participant in the crime," and his involvement in the failure to return items of cultural value is proven by the testimony of witnesses among other evidence.

The witnesses in the case are Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan.

In May 2014, the Arbitration Court of Moscow upheld the lawsuit lodged by the Russian State Library and the Russian Culture Ministry, ordering the U.S. and the Library of Congress to return the books from the Schneerson collection to Russia. In the case of failure to respect the court order, it ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiffs $50,000 for every day of delay. Agudas Chasidei Chabad was a third party in the lawsuit. A representative of the plaintiffs said in court that in March 2013, the U.S authorities officially refused to return the books.

The Schneerson library comprises 12,000 books and 25,000 documents. It is a collection of old Jewish books and manuscripts compiled by Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson in the Russian Empire late in the 19th century. Part of the collection was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and eventually joined the collection of the Lenin Library (now the Russian State Library). Schneerson managed to take the other part of the collection out of the Soviet Union while emigrating in the 1930s.

The New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch religious community has been seeking the Schneerson collection's handover since late 1980s. In August 2010, a federal judge in Washington, Royce Lamberth, ruled that the Hasidim proved the legitimacy of their claims to the Jewish books and manuscripts, which, according to his ruling, are kept at the Russian State Library and the Russian Military Archive illegally. The Russian Foreign Ministry challenged the judgment. In January 2013, a U.S. district court in Washington ruled to oblige Russia to pay $50,000 a day as a fine until the Schneerson collection is returned to Chabad-Lubavitch. Moscow does not recognize the rulings of the U.S. courts and refuses to hand over the book collection.