Lauder not informed of Singer lawsuit

WJC president kept out of loop of legal action by outgoing secretary general.

israel singer talks 298 (photo credit: Channel 1)
israel singer talks 298
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress, was not informed about the WJC's recent filing of a civil suit against Israel Singer, the group's former chairman, officials said Tuesday. "Mr. Lauder did not know about the filing of the lawsuit," Lauder spokesman Amiram Fleisher told The Jerusalem Post. The revelation that the newly elected head of the organization was kept out of the loop on the legal action by the WJC's outgoing secretary-general, Stephen E. Herbits, emerged just one day after it became known that the former president of the organization, Edgar M. Bronfman, and the WJC had filed separate civil suits against Singer. The suit filed in a New York court by Bronfman alleges that Singer failed to pay back more than $500,000 in personal loans stemming from a 2004 investigation by the New York State Attorney General's Office into the WJC's finances. Bronfman had previously accused Singer of stealing money. A second, smaller suit filed by the organization against Singer involves expenses such as frequent flier miles and office computers. Singer has denied the allegations against him, and said that he expects the WJC suit to be resolved with the new leadership. The decision to take action against Singer was made last February, four months before Lauder was elected to head the organization, officials said. Lauder had been informed that lawyers had been hired before he came to office to prepare a lawsuit, but was never subsequently advised that they were going to file the lawsuit, or consulted on the issue, the officials said. The legal action comes two months after Lauder was elected as president of the WJC on a platform promising to breathe new life into the organization, which has been plagued by years of internecine infighting and turmoil, and just three weeks before Herbits is due to step down from office. Officials in the organization were surprised that the decision to file the WJC lawsuit was made without informing either the president of the organization or the newly appointed secretary-general, Michael Schneider, who will replace Herbits on September 10. The head of the Israeli board of the organization, MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), said Tuesday that the first he heard of the civil suit filed by the organization was in Monday's Post. "This is exactly why I feel that Herbits should have left the organization the day after the elections as he undertook to do," said Isi Leibler, a former WJC vice president. "My concerns are what other initiatives he may take without informing his president or executive," he said. Leibler's remarks carried extra weight given the fact that he is a staunch Singer opponent. Singer has a rich three-decade record of service to the Jewish world, including working to free Russian Jewry and acquiring billions of dollars in Holocaust restitution, but his name was badly tarnished by a financial mismanagement scandal that has long plagued the organization. An investigation by the New York State Attorney General's Office, which focused on a series of money transfers totaling 1.2 million dollars from New York to a Swiss account, had barred Singer from any further financial role in the organization, but did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Meanwhile, a letter sent recently by the WJC's legal counsel in New York suspends the World Zionist Organization from the WJC, officials said. A WZO spokesman said Tuesday the WJC was going through turmoil, adding that WZO was convinced any problems will be straightened out after September 10 with the new WJC leadership.