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only financial wrongdoing, he said, were
the accountant's payments to himself,
which he attributed to that man's possible
-- Isn't that always the way?
New York, November 30, 2004
Uproar Shakes World Jewish
Israel Singer, WJC
THE World Jewish
Congress is in turmoil, two decades after
the billionaire Edgar M. Bronfman
Sr. (below) rescued it from crushing
debts and propelled it to remarkable
With just a few dozen employees and an
$8 million annual operating budget, the
congress, a nonprofit organization,
brought to light the Nazi past of Kurt
Waldheim, the former United Nations
chief, [Website note: Waldheim
turned out to have been G2, Intelligence
officer, in a minor Wehrmacht
unit] and forced Swiss banks to
pay more than $1 billion to settle
Now the organization that criticized
those banks for their lack of transparency
and accountability finds itself under
attack on similar accusations -- and from
within the Jewish community.
An odd series of money transfers
totaling $1.2 million first to a Swiss
account and then to one in London has
critics crying foul and questioning
whether the money was improperly moved by
Israel Singer, the 62-year-old
rabbi (above right) who has
generally led the organization since
people who pressed for a full audit of the
money transfer have left the congress or
been dismissed, and another has been
suspended from a subsidiary
The Geneva accountant who, together
with Rabbi Singer, signed for the money's
transfer to an account in London has been
fired for paying himself roughly $1,900 a
month more than his approved salary. The
Geneva office was then ordered closed --
although after two employees who raised
questions were let go, the organization
has since decided to keep it open.
None of the transferred money is
missing, and a review of the paper trail
by the congress's auditor uncovered no
irregularities, said Stephen E.
Herbits, who was brought in by Mr.
Bronfman in September to complete an
overhaul of the organization that began
last year. The only financial wrongdoing,
he said, were the accountant's payments to
himself, which he attributed to that man's
Mr. Herbits said he was concerned that
the uproar over the money transfer
threatened to destroy the organization and
that it had complicated efforts to
strengthen oversight and rewrite the
group's constitution. "I am horrified by
the time and cost and embarrassment and
potential damage that this is doing and
for reasons that are not substantive and
have come up by pure desire for
influencing politics and having prestige,"
Mr. Herbits said.
Leibler, a retired Australian businessman,
billionaire, right] said
the Geneva money transfer was symptomatic
of the organization's feeble controls over
management and money. Mr. Leibler was
ousted in September from the
organization's steering committee but
remains senior vice president, a titular
"I want a
clear investigation," Mr. Leibler said.
"If people have done wrong things, they
should go, and the organization should
establish financial transparency,
accountability and checks and balances
over its money."
Mr. Bronfman, who built the Seagram
Company Ltd. into one of the world's
premier purveyors of liquor, was virtually
the organization's sole backer at one
point, and he continues to contribute
about $2 million a year.
For years, Mr. Bronfman and Rabbi
Singer ran the congress as a fief, Mr.
Leibler said. "I accepted that because I
felt that Mr. Bronfman was himself giving
the bulk of the funds," Mr. Leibler said.
"I'm now aware that about 80 percent of
money comes from 400,000 donors who
provide money to the American section, but
the organization is still effectively
controlled by Rabbi Singer, who operates
under jurisdiction of Mr. Bronfman."
for billions of dollars in Holocaust
restitution through his leadership of
the Claims Conference and the World
Jewish Restitution Organization,
declined to comment. So did Mr.
Bronfman, the president of the
congress. Mr. Herbits said he was
speaking on their behalf.
The $1.2 million was moved out of the
congress's New York account into a
numbered UBS account in Switzerland in
five installments from October 2002
through February 2003.
The people running the Geneva office
were unaware of the account, according to
a letter to Mr. Herbits from Daniel
Lack, a lawyer who had worked for the
congress in Geneva for 29 years.
But the Geneva office did discover a
problem with the accountant's pay soon
after a young lawyer, Maya Ben-Haim
Rosen, took its helm. She told the man
his services would no longer be needed,
and briefed Rabbi Singer and another
official about the problem in London in
July 2003, according to Mr. Lack's
Two days after that meeting, Rabbi
Singer flew to Geneva. He coaxed the
accountant out of a medical center, where
he was recuperating from a heart problem,
and took him to the bank to sign the order
transferring the $1.2 million to a London
account of Zvi Barak.
order describes the money as "for the
pension." Mr. Barak, a lawyer in Israel
who has handled pension business, is a
friend of Rabbi Singer and declined to
comment on the matter.
According to the letter, Mr. Lack and
Ms. Ben-Haim Rosen learned of the
account only when they received a
statement in October 2003 showing that it
had been overdrawn by $40 because no money
was left in the account to cover the
Mr. Lack's letter, dated Sept. 19,
2004, was supplied to The New York
Times by Facts, a Swiss news weekly
against which the congress has begun legal
proceedings. Mr. Lack, whom Mr. Herbits
described as a disgruntled former
employee, declined to comment.
Ms. Ben-Haim Rosen and Mr. Lack were
dismissed when the Geneva office was
WHEN questions arose about the transfers,
Rabbi Singer was quoted in a Jewish
publication as saying that the money had
been given to the World Jewish Congress by
the Jewish Agency for Israel, possibly to
create a pension for him. In later
publications, he said the money was for
pensions for the organization.
But Mr. Leibler and other critics say
they suspect he was trying to create a
personal pension account.
Rabbi Singer is paid
$226,000 a year as an "ex gratia pension"
for his previous work and now
serves as chairman of the governing
The Jewish Agency denied that the money
had been set aside for pensions. "That is
totally incorrect," said Michael
Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the
agency, which helps immigration to Israel.
He said the agency sent $1.5 million in
2001 to the congress's general account in
Mr. Herbits said that the bulk of that
money was transferred to Switzerland to
broaden its pension plan. Only the
employees in Geneva had pensions, and the
organization wanted to cover all its
roughly 30 employees, some of whom are
He said the money was put into a
dormant account -- not a secret one -- to
avoid giving discretion of so much money
to a new employee.
"A statement went to the office each
month and was opened by the secretary,"
Mr. Herbits said.
Ultimately, he said, the plan to build
a pension program in Switzerland failed.
The money was then transferred to Mr.
Barak because he is an expert in pensions,
Mr. Herbits said. Mr. Barak is chairman of
the Jewish Agency's employee pension
The transfer was retraced by Loeb &
Troper, a New York accounting firm that
has done work for the congress for years.
"Based upon our review of the documents,
we are not aware of any irregularities,"
the firm wrote in a letter to the
Mr. Herbits said that report, which was
repeated by German and Belgian law firms,
established that the $1.2 million never
left the organization's control, as
critics have contended.
others say that these reports merely
traced the movement of the money and
lacked independence because of Loeb
& Troper's history as the
"We also asked why this money movement
was done and who had ordered it," said
Alfred Donath, a retired professor
of nuclear medicine who is president of
the Swiss Federation of Jewish
Communities. The Swiss group, with Mr.
Donath, has been suspended from the
governing body of the European Jewish
Congress because of its persistent demand
for more information. "Those questions
were not answered."
Mr. Herbits said he had answered all
the questions of the Swiss Federation and
had addressed all the critics' concerns.
He also noted that Mr. Leibler had voted
to close the Geneva office in his previous
The restructuring at the Congress is
starting to take hold. Mr. Herbits has
created a personnel manual with guidelines
on travel spending, has installed a cash
management system, has put together a
finance committee that will meet next
month and has created new policies to
govern the hiring of consultants and the
disbursal of money.
"Governance and financial management
have been weak," he said, "and I'm fixing
2004 The New York Times
Edgar Bronfman (right) is stated in the
Jewish press to have been one of the major
financial contributors to Deborah
paying the millions of dollars that were
used to finance her neutral expert
witnesses to testify as they did in Mr
- ... on this
dossier on the origins of
fine squabble at World Jewish Congress
HQ: Edgar Bronfman, Elan Steinberg
(right), Isi Leibler, call eachother
the Leiblers, and the Keeping of
Jewish Congress and Adolf Eichmann's
1944 "Jews for trucks" offer
Eagleburger urged Washington Bar not to
dismiss thief Neal Sher
Eagleburger admits: His International
Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance
Claims has spent $56 million to obtain
offers of claims payments of $35
Leibler exchange bitter words over
A Talk by
Edgar M. Bronfman: "Jews and
lays into Wiesenthal, Bronfman and
Eizenstat (in German)
Post: Ottawa tries to cover up who's
behind the $800m tax
family's mystery tax break faces
linked to Israeli probe
2001: Judge scolds tax officials, but
crusader loses case