Ex-judge Orr to audit Leumi's Holocaust victims' accounts

Restitution organization says bank must turn over all materials related to Holocaust-era accounts.

Holocaust survive 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Holocaust survive 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Bank Leumi announced on Sunday that it had appointed retired Supreme Court justice Theodore Orr as an external auditor to look into the bank's handling of Holocaust victims' accounts and assets. The move comes amid burgeoning pressure on Israel's second largest bank by the Israeli Organization for the Restitution of Assets for Holocaust Victims to restore assets from pre-World War II bank accounts - dating from 1936 until today - to Holocaust victims and their rightful heirs. The bank said Sunday that Orr had agreed to serve as an independent auditor of the bank's dealings at the behest of the bank's chairman, Eitan Raff. The retired Supreme Court justice, who will have open access to all Bank Leumi accounts, will recommend how the bank should act on the high-profile issue, the bank said in a press release. The head of the restitution organization, Avraham Roet, said Sunday that the bank's decision to appoint Orr was an "internal matter," but that it did not relieve the bank of its requirement to turn over all materials to the restitution organization. "The judge cannot censor the materials," Roet said. In a largely symbolic move, the bank transferred NIS 20 million to the organization in June, even though the bank has asserted that it does not hold any funds or property belonging to Holocaust victims. But Roet said that a committee of inquiry found that the bank actually owed the organization NIS 45 million for Holocaust survivors, and that the NIS 20 million was only a down payment. He added that over NIS 100 million was believed to have been invested in Bank Leumi by Holocaust victims before World War II. The Israeli Organization for the Restitution of Assets for Holocaust Victims was established by the Knesset last year. Last month, the group published the first list of assets and property of Holocaust victims found in Israel. The list includes 3,000 bank accounts and 500 real estate properties valued at more than NIS 100 million. Property and assets belonging to Holocaust victims estimated to run in the hundreds of millions of dollars have been held by various state institutions in Israel for dozens of years, and are only now being transferred to their owners. Meanwhile, the Knesset's Immigration Committee will discuss assistance programs on Monday for Holocaust survivors in Israel. Approximately 250,000 Holocaust survivors are thought to be living in the country. Nearly one-third of them live in poverty, recent welfare reports have found, prompting growing calls for additional government assistance.