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hollander 370.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Claims Conference tasks ombudsman with probe
Shmuel Hollander to conduct investigation of allegations that senior officials mishandled a 2001 internal probe of fraud scheme.
The Conference of Material Claims Against Germany on Thursday appointed ombudsman Shmuel Hollander to conduct an investigation of allegations that senior officials mishandled a 2001 internal probe of what turned out to be a massive fraud scheme. The move comes after several members of the board, representing major organizations such as the Jewish Agency and World Jewish Congress, have called for an independent investigation.

A 2001 anonymous tip-off letter resulted in an internal probe that failed to uncover the beginnings of a $57 million fraud scheme being orchestrated by Semen Domnitser, a Claims Conference employee. Domnitser was found guilty last month of overseeing the scheme.

The letter was received by a conference official who investigated the matter without finding any evidence of wrongdoing. After the 2001 letter went public, a claims conference spokeswoman placed responsibility for not investigating further on the official, who died in 2004.

However, the JTA subsequently reported that a paralegal working for board member and pro-bono cousel Julius Berman¹s law firm launched a second investigation, which also terminated without uncovering the fraud.

Berman became the chairman in 2002.

In May,  Berman appointed board member Reuven Merhav to lead a Select Leadership Committee that would investigate the events surrounding the 2001 letter. However, this move was deemed insufficient by some board members.

Max Liebman, senior vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, wrote Berman earlier this week, stating his intent to "formally request" an inquiry as to "why no action was ever taken following receipt" of the original whistleblower letter and why "the existence of the 2001 letter and of the internal and external examinations of the charges made in that letter was not disclosed to the Claims Conference board."

The matter must be referred to the ombudsman, he wrote Berman.

In a letter to the board on Thursday, Merhav wrote that the "Committee decided to ask the Ombudsman¹s Office...being both independent and possessing the relevant expertise, to investigate the facts surrounding the 2001 letter."

Merhav said that Hollander had agreed to provide his findings to the Select Leadership Committee "within a short period of time, in order for the Committee to consider the facts as found by the Ombudsman and formulate its recommendations based on those findings in discharge of its mandate."

The committee¹s report will be presented at the next board meeting in early July, Merhav wrote.

In response, Board Member Johnnie Walker, the President of the Anglo Jewish Association, told The Jerusalem Post that he and his colleagues plan to "vigilantly scrutinize all relevant facts and procedures to ensure 'proper order' at the CC - to the best of our ability."

Menachem Rosensaft, the general counsel of the WJC called Merhav¹s decision "an important step in the right direction" and urged that the ombudsman's report be "made available to the entire claims conference board, not just the members of the select committee."

"We further hope and urge," he told the Post, "that the report of the select committee will be made available to the claims conference board of directors well in advance of the july 9th board meeting."

JTA contributed to this report.
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