Claims Conference faces more calls for fraud probe

Jewish organizations leaders join chorus calling for independent probe of the Holocaust restitution organization.

June 4, 2013 23:08
3 minute read.
Holocaust survivors protest budget shortage

Holocaust protest 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)

Samuel Norich, a member of the board for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, has joined the growing chorus of calls for an independent probe of the Holocaust restitution organization.

Norich is one of two Jewish Labor Committee representatives on the board. His call follows those of World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, and the senior vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, Max Liebman – all of whom sit on the board.

The Forward newspaper, of which Norich is the publisher, has been vocal in its critique of Claims Conference chairman Julius Berman.

Norich’s call appeared in a letter he wrote to Berman on Friday in response to an 11- page missive that the chairman had penned to defend himself against what he believed to be false reports about him in the media.

“Mr. Berman used yesterday’s email communication to vilify The Forward and others, to wrongly charge The Forward with an error it never made, and to avoid saying anything new about any role he played in investigating and acting on the accusations he learned about in 2001,” Norich wrote.

In 2001, Karl Brozik, who was then in charge of the Claims Conference’s operations in Germany, received an anonymous tip alleging that New York-based employee Semen Domnitser had approved several fraudulent restitution claims.

According to the JTA, after Brozik ended his investigation, a paralegal from Berman’s firm was tasked with leading a second probe into the matter and failed to find any traces of what would be discovered in 2009 to be a $57 million swindle.

Following the initial media reports of the 2001 warning, Berman’s spokeswoman told reporters that the decision to cease investigating Domnitser had been made by Brozik, who died in 2004. There was no mention of the second investigation, which recently came to light in a report by the JTA.

In his letter, Berman had written that it was a headline in Norich’s newspaper that convinced him that he “no longer [had] the luxury of sitting back and allowing such unvarnished lies to be published about me without responding.”

While stating that he did not “directly manage” the day-to-day operations of The Forward, Norich wrote that he was, “nevertheless, ultimately responsible for what The Forward reports,” and urged Berman not to “paint ‘the media’ with a broad brush.”

The Forward is not the Jerusalem Post,” he wrote. “We are responsible for what we publish, not for what others then do with it.”

Given that Berman was both the pro-bono counsel to the Claims Conference and “a member of the Executive Committee and the Control Commission” of the board in 2001, Norich wrote, “the questions that The Forward, and now others, have raised require answers from him and from his colleagues at the time, some of whom are still with the Claims Conference today.”

As such, he continued, “they require an independent investigation of what happened, not an investigation that is carried out internally.”

Berman recently appointed board member Reuven Merhav to conduct an internal investigation of the events surrounding the 2001 letter.

Norich expressed his hope that “an investigation will be launched in the coming days, so that we, as board members, and then the interested public, are able to evaluate what will have been revealed, and make judgments as required, preferably well before the July 9 and 10 board meeting.”

In response to Norich, a spokeswoman for the Claims Conference told the Post that the committee headed by Merhav “has been formed to formulate an appropriate course of action for the Claims Conference with respect to the issues surrounding the 2001 letter. All issues on this topic will be referred to this committee. Once the work of this committee is complete, its findings and recommendations will be made public.”

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