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World Jewish Congress investigated for suspicious money transfers



The World Jewish Congress, which has wrung billions of dollars in Holocaust restitution from European governments and companies, is being investigated by the authorities in New York following a series of unusual money transfers of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The influential international group, which was founded in the Thirties to counter growing anti-Semitism, has attracted the attention of Elliot Spitzer, the New York state attorney general, who is making informal inquiries into the transfers ordered by Rabbi Israel Singer, the president of the WJC since 1985. It is possible his office could order a full-scale inquiry.

The inquiries follow a series of allegations about the organisation's accounting practices by its most outspoken internal critic, Isi Liebler, the WJC's senior vice-president. Mr Liebler, who has declined to comment in public, has demanded a full independent audit of the group's finances.

The WJC was established in 1936 to try to counter growing anti-Semitism and mobilise the world against the Nazi onslaught. In recent years the group, which has its international headquarters in New York, has been responsible for obtaining compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust and has secured millions of dollars in payments from Swiss banks.

The investigation by Mr Spitzer's office is reportedly focussing on payments ordered by Rabbi Singer between October 2002 to February last year. In that five-month period he ordered the transfer of $1.2m (630,000) of the WJC's funds to a numbered bank account in a bank in Geneva. The staff in its Geneva office said they were not aware of such an account.

In an effort to overhaul the group's accounting practices, as well as improve its public image, its chief patron, the billionaire Egar Bronfman, has ordered an internal review. That is being carried out by Stephen Herberts. Mr Herberts has reportedly met with Mr Liebler in Israel to discuss his demands for a full audit.

Mr Herberts told The New York Times: "You can't turn around an organisation overnight but I would say that 70 or 80 per cent of the changes have been initiated." He said that Mr Spitzer's office had not contacted him but that he was willing to co-operate. "I'm more than happy to give them anything and everything they may want to see," he added.

It was reported by the Jewish Week, a publication for New York's Jewish community, that Rabbi Singer and Mr Bronfman have worked together for more than two decades. Earlier this year they accused Mr Liebler of trying to destroy the WJC and discredit Mr Bronfman by raising questions about its finances.

Mr Bronfman tried to oust Mr Liebler from his position, calling his questions "assaults on my tenure, my integrity and my person".

Rabbi Singer has not commented on the investigation of the money transfers. Earlier this year he said he would fight any such move. "There is no scandal, and I'm not going to be threatened," he said.

Mr Liebler's critics claim that he has been motivated by political differences with Mr Bronfman, charges he has denied. The WJC has been a vocal actor in obtaining payments for survivors of the Holocaust and has worked closely with the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.

The organisation, which was set up in 1998, has collected more than $500m for victims.

The Independent, "Holocaust fund investigated for 'unusual' money transfers", 1 January 2005.
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=597158

"The Insider" mailing list article, 01 January 2005.

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