WJC, German Jewish council concerned by ‘disturbing’ Claims Conference report

"We need to know the whole truth, need to draw conclusions, implement them and show transparency to everyone involved."

July 10, 2013 03:23
3 minute read.
General-secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Stephan Kramer.

Stephan Kramer 370. (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)

Both the World Jewish Congress and the Central Council of Jews in Germany expressed their concern on Tuesday over instances of the leadership of the Claims Conference withholding information from members of the restitution organization’s board.

The board of the Claims Conference, representing leaders of Jewish communities and organizations from Israel and across the Diaspora, is currently meeting in New York.

Its deliberations are largely expected to center around the failure of senior officials to detect and halt a massive fraud operation conducted by conference employees that netted $57 million in restitution funds over a period of nearly two decades.

Mismanagement of the conference was key in ‘facilitating’ the fraud, according to an internal report to the board by ombudsman Shmuel Hollander leaked to The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

In an email to the Post on Tuesday, Stephan Kramer, the secretary-general of the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, noted that the report had referenced an investigation of the Claims Conference by auditing firm Deloitte, conducted on the behest of the German government, which had not been shared with the board.

Kramer had previously been critical of the failure of the leadership of the conference to provide copies of the Hollander report prior to the beginning of the board meeting, despite having received it on July 2. It was finally released one day before the board was set to meet in New York, a period that some board members had deemed insufficient to properly parse the nearly 90-page document.

Regarding whether the Deloitte report was being released to members of the board, Claims Conference chairman Julius Berman told the Post in May that “we haven’t crossed that bridge yet, because what is critical in the report is that it reflects in large part what steps are being taken to assure it won’t happen in the future, and there’s been a hesitancy about going out to the public and giving them a dry run of everything that is set up now.”

Kramer called Berman’s failure to share the Deloitte report “disturbing.”

He also said that that he believed the Hollander report to be clear, but that it showed that “certain and obvious questions have not been asked and therefore not been answered.”

The German director also insisted that questions must be asked and “hopefully answered satisfactorily about the role of the chairman Berman and certainly of [executive vice president] Greg Schneider to inform and not inform the board members about certain issues and measures to be taken.”

Among the issues to which Kramer was referring are the results of an internal investigation into a 2001 whistle-blower letter received by the conference in which Semen Domnitser, a claims conference employee, was accused of the crimes for which he would eventually be convicted in 2013. Domnitser was the primary mover behind the conspiracy.

Berman – who at the time was a board member and pro-bono legal counsel – assigned a paralegal from his law firm Kaye Scholer to investigate the matter, but did not inform the board of this fact following the discovery of the fraud in 2009.

Following the revelation of the fraud, conference officials blamed the failure to uncover the fraud on Karl Brozik, the former head of the conference’s German office, who led an inconclusive probe prior to Berman’s. Brozik died in 2004.

In a letter sent to Hollander and Schneider on Tuesday, Michael Schneider, one of two World Jewish Congress delegates on the board, asked, “Who, if anyone, decided not to inform the board of directors of the Claims Conference of the existence of the 2011 [sic] letter and the Kaye Scholer report and/or not to provide copies of these documents to the board?”

The WJC representative also asked if anyone had told Schneider or Hollander that, following Brozik’s death, his assistant had “spent a considerable amount of time shredding documents in the Claims Conference Frankfurt office?”

Kramer said that the Claims Conference’s “leadership needs to change its attitude to the board in terms of information policy and consultancy, and the board of directors needs to understand that we are also responsible for the Claims Conference and need to get more involved.”

“My conclusion at this moment is, we need to know the whole truth, need to draw conclusions, implement them and show transparency to everyone involved. We owe this to the survivors, ourselves, our organizations and the public.”

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