In a letter sent to his board of directors, Claims Conference chairman Julius
Berman complained of the “unvarnished lies” published about him in the media,
The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Berman also struck back at Jewish Agency
chairman Natan Sharansky and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder for
their calls for an independent investigation of the leadership of the Claims
Conference over their role in investigating a 2001 tip-off of a massive fraud
scheme by conference employees.
The Claims Conference was established in
1951 “to secure... a small measure of justice for Jewish victims of Nazi
persecution” through “a combination of negotiations, disbursing funds to
individuals and organizations, and seeking the return of Jewish property lost
during the Holocaust,” according to the organization’s mission
The fraud was eventually uncovered in 2009 after netting
participants $57 million in Holocaust reparation funds.
In the 11-page
document, which was obtained by the Post
on Friday, Berman described his
frustration with “the continuous repetition of the falsehoods and misleading
statements about my actions [that] will be accepted as truths over
Among those Berman singled out in the media for opprobrium were
, The Jerusalem Post
and pundit Isi Leibler, whose column runs in
The Claims Conference chairman has come under harsh
criticism from critics such as Leibler, who recently wrote that he and other
senior officials were guilty of “cover-ups and ethical failures at the highest
possible levels” regarding the fraud.
According to documents obtained by
JTA, Berman’s law firm, Kaye Scholer LLP, launched a 2001 probe that failed to
expose the ongoing theft.
Prior to the publication of the JTA
investigation, Berman’s spokeswoman had long blamed Karl Brozik for the failure
of the Claims Conference to expose the fraud. Brozik, who died in 2004, was the
organization’s director in Germany who had conducted an investigation prior to
Berman’s, after receiving an anonymous letter detailing cases of
Berman wrote that he had received a call from “a senior member of
our board” alleging that he had “ignored my responsibility to the Claims
Conference Board, the men and women who have a fiduciary responsibility for the
governance of the organization.”
In response to the unnamed board
member’s comments and in response to “the tissue of lies and misleading
statements that has been published by the papers,” Berman said that it was time
to reveal the “unvarnished facts of my relationship to the Claims Conference
from its very beginning through today.”
Members of the board represent
major Jewish communal organizations from around the globe.
letter comes as a response to an editorial in The Forward
titled “a moral
responsibility,” in which the paper’s editorial board said that despite a
Federal probe in 2009, when the fraud was finally uncovered, the investigation
had only “put an end to the fraud, but not to the underlying governance issues
that allowed the fraud to continue for eight years after it was
Regarding his role in the Claims Conference in 2001, when the
initial reports of fraud surfaced, Berman wrote that starting in 1995, he had
joined the organization as “its pro bono counsel.”
In his letter, Berman
took issue with a Forward
headline: “Claims Conference Chair Knew of Fraud
Allegations 8 Years Earlier,” saying that “The simple undisputed and
indisputable fact is that I was not the chairman of the Conference in
In response, the Forward published a rejoinder, stating that
Berman’s “assertions are just plain wrong.”
“In addition to serving as
counsel in 2001,” the Forward
countered, “Berman was a board member who served
that year on two important and relevant committees: the Control [audit]
Committee and the Executive Committee.
This information came from the
Claims Conference’s 2001 annual report, but is omitted from Berman’s letter to
is clearly just articulating [or uncovering]
problems that have existed for a long time at the heart of this enormously
important enterprise,” the paper concluded.
Berman also expressed his
“total puzzlement” as to why board member and Jewish Agency chairman Natan
Sharansky had called on Berman to allow for the formation of an independent
investigatory body to look into allegations against the Claims
“You must be aware that we had two of the most independent
public entities in the world handling the investigation of the ‘embezzlement of
funds’ – the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. Is it even possible to identify more public, independent and
effective bodies than these?” Berman wrote to Sharansky.
The Post was not
able to reach Sharansky – who spent the weekend in New York – for
Berman says he cannot explain Leibler’s “obsession” with him.
Berman met with Leibler once in “New York sometime in the mid 2000s after he was
forced out of the World Jewish Congress and I was elected chairman of the Claims
Conference,” he wrote.
“He said that he was out to get Israel Singer, our
then-president, and he would be relentless in going after him, but he wanted me
to know that his target was Singer and he had nothing against either me or the
Claims Conference,” Berman recalled. “When I asked him the obvious question, so
why did he want to meet me, he said that he intended to meet with other leaders
of the Jewish Community also, to enlighten them about Singer. He then gave me a
dossier about an inch thick, all of which, he said, related to
Berman wrote that he did not read the
According to Leibler, “Berman’s response is
Berman, he told the Post, “personally attacks all his
critics but fails to refute the fundamental charge that he was aware of
allegations of fraud in 2001 when he oversaw an investigation of those
allegations. Yet he concealed this from the board when the fraud was discovered
in late 2009.”
“I find it ironic that Berman would choose to attack me
for disclosing the financial irregularities of the WJC which were proven to be
correct. The fact that when I approached him to warn him about the allegations
against Israel Singer, the then-Claims Conference president, and that he simply
chose to ignore them – even after the results of the investigation of the New
York att.-gen and Singer had been dismissed by the WJC – speaks volumes about
his moral compass,” Leibler said.
Berman also critiqued to the Post
report that World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder has called for “a task
force” to look into allegations against the Claims Conference, calling into
question the reliability of a letter obtained by the Post stating Mr. Lauder’s
intentions in this matter. The letter was provided to the Post by its recipient,
who initially requested to remain anonymous.
WJC General Counsel Menachem
Rosensaft told the Post on Friday that the WJC has “no comment regarding Mr.
Berman’s letter to president Lauder” except to say that Lauder was still
awaiting answers from Berman to questions he had sent him regarding the 2001
Referring to the communiqué obtained by the Post
whose provenance Berman had questioned, Rosensaft stated that “the paragraph
regarding the setting up of the WJC task force was in an email sent by president
Lauder to Mr. Leibler.”
On May 17, Lauder asked Berman if the existence
of the 2001 whistle-blower letter and “the subsequent communications regarding
that letter” were ever “disclosed to the board of directors and/or the members
of the executive committee of the Claims Conference.”
Lauder was not on
the board of the Claims Conference in 2001.
"I suggest you call the WJC and inquire about whether it is investigating the CC and how that investigation is proceeding," Claims Conference spokeswoman Hillary Kessler-Godin emailed the Post
after being asked for clarification of Berman's statements regarding Lauder's call for a probe.
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