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(photo credit: Channel 1)
The president of the European Jewish Congress voiced "outrage" on Wednesday that a personal letter from World Jewish Congress President Edgar M. Bronfman accusing ousted former chairman Israel Singer of stealing his cash was leaked to the press.
"Israel helped himself to cash from the WJC office, my cash," Bronfman wrote EJC President Pierre Besnainou in the letter last week, explaining his reasons for dismissing the veteran organization leader.
It came after WJC affiliates in Europe, Latin America and Israel expressed dismay about being notified in a conference call earlier that day that Singer - who had held a variety of top positions in the WJC over the past 30 years - had been fired.
"This had gone on for a very long time. I am sure that at this point in time he thinks he was entitled to the money and so he didn't do anything wrong," Bronfman wrote.
Besnainou had previously asked Bronfman for an urgent explanation about why he suddenly dismissed Singer at a meeting on March 14 that was marred when the microphones of Israeli and European delegates stopped working shortly after the discussion began. They had threatened to pull out of the organization if the decision to fire Singer taken at the meeting was implemented.
Israeli WJC officials, for their part, were further incensed by Bronfman's announcement on the March 14 call that Bobby Brown, director-general of the Israel branch, had been fired and the branch's funding cut off.
In the hours after the call, the European and Israeli affiliates submitted letters of protest to Bronfman. Besnainou conveyed his "strong disappointment" with the call and urged Bronfman not to take any action beyond ordering an audit of the Israeli branch, or the Europeans would consider withdrawing temporarily from the WJC.
The Israeli branch issued a similar threat, calling the conference call illegal because the Israelis' microphones apparently were inoperable, leaving them unable to voice opposition to the proceedings. Besnainou also reported trouble with his microphone.
WJC Secretary-General Stephen Herbits denied any suggestion of foul play with the microphones and said an inquiry was under way.
Bronfman's response clearly failed to assuage Besnainou's anger.
"What should have remained a private exchange between the two of us is now public. I am outraged," Besnainou wrote in his response.
A copy of his letter was obtained Wednesday by The Jerusalem Post.
Besnainou was traveling to Venezuela for an urgent meeting with Latin America leaders of the organization ahead of what is seen as an imminent split in the seven-decade-old organization.
In his letter, Bronfman accused Singer of failing to pay tax on money he took for his own use, and then "playing the same game" when he came to Jerusalem, "taking cash from the office and never accounting for it," and having the Jerusalem office of the organization pay for some of his hotel bills "in violation of WJC policy and proper accounting practices."
"It took me many weeks of crying to discover I was so badly used by a man I used to love," Bronfman wrote.
He added that "no threats" would make him change his decision, calling Singer's financial moves "a sickness." Singer's attorney Stanley Arkin was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. On Monday, Arkin had said: "We are currently trying to engage in an intelligent, constructive, and balanced dialogue with the WJC and its principals. Several previous statements made in the media have been strident and false. After more than three decades of his life spent at the core of the WJC and its many accomplishments, Israel Singer has much to say and at the appropriate time will make sure that history will chronicle with accuracy the story of this organization and the people who worked with him."
Singer has been under a cloud since the revelation several years ago that he secretly transferred $1.2 million of WJC money to a Swiss bank account. The money subsequently was returned, but critics say the transfer was never fully explained.
A number of investigations were launched in the wake of that revelation. A 2006 report by the New York State Attorney General's Office found no evidence of criminality on Singer's part, but assailed the organization for lax record keeping and said Singer had violated his fiduciary duties by moving money around without proper authorization.
In 2005, a report by the accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers sought to analyze a decade's worth of financial documentation from WJC's Geneva office but was unable to account for $3.8 million of WJC money. A separate Internal Revenue Service investigation into the organization's finances is under way.
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