The president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress, Edgar M. Bronfman, has said he fired his longtime confidante and former group chairman Israel Singer to avoid an IRS penalty.
"Without our own action to maintain integrity, the New York State attorney-general and the US Internal Revenue Service can apply sanctions to the WJC itself," Bronfman wrote in a March 30 letter to organization officials.
The letter, which was made public Friday, followed criticism within the organization about the way Bronfman unilaterally fired Singer last month, and was seen as the latest effort by the veteran group leader to explain his abrupt falling out with his erstwhile associate to unnerved members of the organization.
Singer has categorically denied the allegations of financial improprieties.
In an earlier letter, Bronfman had accused Singer of taking "cash - my cash" from the organization, while the latest letter accuses Singer of spending WJC funds for personal use.
Singer's attorney, Stanley Arkin, has called the Bronfman charges "sad, sick and shameful," but said that he would "engage in balanced constructive dialogue" with the organization before pursuing possible legal action.
Singer has a rich, three-decade record of service to the Jewish world, including working to free Russian Jewry and acquiring billions of dollars in Holocaust restitution, but his name was badly tarnished by a financial mismanagement scandal that has long plagued the organization.
An investigation by the New York State attorney-general's office which focused on a series of money transfers totaling $1.2 million from New York to a Swiss account had barred Singer from any further financial role in the organization, but did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
The non-profit organization is facing an ongoing IRS investigation.
Over the last six months, Singer had refused to take sides in an increasingly bitter battle over control of the WJC's Jerusalem office, and did not openly endorse Bronfman's son as his successor, angering organization officials in New York, who felt he was no longer "a good soldier," Israeli officials in the organization said.
The New York office has denied that Singer's ouster had anything to do with the dispute with the Israel office.
In the letter, the 77-year-old Bronfman, who has led the organization for the last quarter century and had been expected to step down this year, also blasted critics for calling him "senile," and for focusing on the sexual orientation of his controversial secretary-general, Stephen E. Herbits.
Bronfman's unilateral decision to fire Singer, announced last month during a conference call that was marred from the start after Israeli and European leaders of the organization said that their microphones were shut off, stunned leaders in the seven-decade-old organization, which has been plagued by internal infighting and is now facing a chaotic split.