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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Julius Berman’

Claims Conference Looking to Quell Media Storm on 2001 Letter

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Amid calls that the Claims Conference bungled a warning in 2001 about fraud within the organization, conference, leaders appointed a committee to “formulate an appropriate course of action.”

The move, announced by board chairman Julius Berman in an email to board members on Sunday, followed an announcement by the World Jewish Congress that it was setting up its own task force to look into allegations of a cover-up by the Claims Conference.

The allegations concern an anonymous letter sent to the Claims Conference’s Frankfurt office in 2001 that identified five cases in which restitution was approved for ineligible claimants. The letter reached the organization’s then-director in Germany, Karl Brozik, who queried Semen Domnitser, the official in New York who approved the cases and who was found guilty two weeks ago of spearheading the $57 million fraud scheme that run unimpeded at the Claims Conference from 1993 to 2009. In his 2001 response to Brozik, Domnitser acknowledged that the cases had been wrongfully approved but led officials to believe that any errors were inadvertent. The fraud scheme continued to run for nearly a decade more.

Among those who were CC’d on Domnitser’s response to Brozik was the former chief of the conference, Saul Kagan, it’s then-chief, Gideon Taylor, and its current chief, Greg Schneider, whose formal title is executive vice president.

While a Claims Conference staffer who conducted an internal review for the organization in 2001 expressed serious concerns about Domnitser and other Claims Conference employees who reviewed and approved the fraudulent applications, the organization failed to take action against Domnitser.

In recent days, critics have accused the Claims Conference of orchestrating a cover-up of the episode. But Schneider’s office denies the accusations, noting that it was the Claims Conference itself — by way of Schneider — that shared the letter with the FBI and called attention to it during Domnitser’s trial to demonstrate how Domnitser systematically lied to his superiors.

Though Schneider was CC’d on Domnitser’s response to Brozik, a Claims Conference spokeswoman said Schneider did not see the original anonymous 2001 letter and at the time was not the person who would have handled the matter, because several people senior to him were involved. Ultimately, it was Brozik who elected not to inquire further into the irregularities, the Claims Conference said. Brozik is now deceased.

“I have asked our Chairman of the Executive, Amb. Reuven Merhav, to head a Select Leadership Committee of the board to formulate an appropriate course of action for the Conference with respect to the issues surrounding the 2001 letter,” Berman wrote in his email Sunday. “I look forward to its deliberations and recommendation.”

The $57 million fraud scheme discovered in 2009 involved falsifying applications to the Hardship Fund, an account established by the German government to provide one-time payments of approximately $3,360 to those who fled the Nazis as they moved east through Germany, and the Article 2 Fund, through which the German government gives pension payments of approximately $411 per month to needy Nazi victims who spent significant time in a concentration camp, in a Jewish ghetto in hiding or living under a false identity to avoid the Nazis.

In all, 31 people were arrested in connection with the scheme. Twenty-eight pleaded guilty and the three who went to trial were found guilty this month in federal court in Manhattan.

Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman Sees New Era In Holocaust Restitution

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

“We feel that this is a critical moment in the history of property restitution,” Julius Berman, chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, told The Jewish Press last week, after returning from a weeklong trip to Europe.

Berman spent the waning days of January in Brussels, attending and speaking at an event marking the ascendancy of Belgium to the presidency of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research – which is being renamed the International Holocaust Remembrance Organization.

Berman sees the organization’s new name as significant in itself. “A task force sounds relatively temporary and ad hoc. Now, they’re formalizing the institution.”

What Berman is especially excited about, however, is the attitude he observed at a World Jewish Restitution Organization briefing that same week for members of the European Parliament, where he also spoke. “What I found remarkable is that they were listening – you should excuse me – to the mussar to really [get serious about restitution for Holocaust-era assets]. There were people from the EU that got up and really started talking tachlis.”

Berman said that while Germany has given close to $70 billion in restitution, Eastern European countries have been much slower to offer compensation. Two years ago, though, 46 countries gathered for the Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets – a meeting that Berman now regards as a major turning point. “The mere fact that there’s going to be a meeting near the end of the year to see what results have come down the pike since [the Prague conference] gives us the feeling that now business is business…. That conference evidently is a real new demarcation point.”

He added: “Of course, if you ask me, ‘Well, does that mean the money is coming around the corner?’ we know the answer is no. We know Eastern European countries are still [going to plead] poverty and claim there’s too much money involved and that if we give the Jews, we have to give the others too. But we’re just going to have to keep pushing away. This is the new front.”

Claims Conference Will Not Be Deterred

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

The Claims Conference (as reported in last week’s Jewish Press) discovered a fraud perpetrated against the organization. In a sophisticated criminal scheme, falsified and phony documents were submitted to programs that make payments to Jewish victims of Nazism. These programs, funded by the German government, have been targeted by persons seeking to extract payments to which they were not entitled.

Upon discovering the fraud, the Claims Conference immediately contacted U.S. federal law enforcement authorities and, with them, is mounting a vigorous and thorough investigation to determine the scope and source of the fraud.

In short, it was the Claims Conference that discovered the fraud. It was the Claims Conference that brought in law enforcement. And it is the Claims Conference that will see this issue through to resolution.

This fraud is a sophisticated operation of falsifying an array of identity and archival documents, perpetrated by people with a detailed knowledge of Claims Conference application procedures. Employees who processed applications were fired in February. Recently, the Claims Conference unearthed what may be fraudulent documents that were the basis for a total of about $7 million in pension payments to 202 individuals. Upon uncovering this fact, the Claims Conference: (I) suspended payments on these pensions; (II) demanded the return of all funds under this program paid to date; and (III) gave each relevant beneficiary the right to appeal.

The Claims Conference is outraged at the actions of criminals who targeted its programs. In addition to continuing the investigation, the Claims Conference is implementing a number of measures to protect against being victimized in the future. We also want to reassure the community that no survivor payments were affected.

In total, the Claims Conference has paid 106,761 pensions and has distributed more than $4.7 billion under these programs. These payments represent decades of ongoing negotiations with the German government, during which the Claims Conference labored mightily to secure and increase funds for ever more Holocaust victims.

Given that these were hard-fought agreements reached with the German government, the Claims Conference is outraged that criminals would exploit programs intended to assist needy Holocaust victims for their own financial gain.

In the meantime, Claims Conference activities continue at full speed. We have allocated over $215 million this year for homecare, medicine, food programs and other social welfare services for Shoah survivors in 46 countries.

But, as we well know, the needs of Holocaust victims are greater than the resources available. The Claims Conference board of directors has approved a four-year plan to allocate the organization’s funds – approximately $543 million – obtained from the recovery of Jewish property in the former East Germany. Since 1995, the proceeds from these recovered properties have provided vital services to survivors such as homecare, food packages and hot meals, medical care, and winter relief. However, the recovery of property is drawing to a close, with future income from this endeavor diminishing rapidly.

The Claims Conference has an urgent mission to explain the plight of Shoah survivors to the world and bring additional resources to help them. As stated above, existing restitution-related funding for survivor needs will be virtually gone within few years. It is very clear that after the funds are gone, many Holocaust victims will still be with us, older and in more need of care.

Knowing that the needs will outlast the available funds, our focus in recent years in annual negotiations with the German government has been to obtain funds for homecare. Despite all of the obstacles, the Claims Conference has been uniquely successful in increasing the funds available to assist survivors. In 2010, the Claims Conference obtained approximately $77 million from the German government for homecare, nearly double the amount negotiated in 2009.

Further, the Claims Conference, together with the World Jewish Restitution Organization, is working assiduously to convince governments in Poland, Lithuania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe to finally fulfill their obligation and restitute Jewish property stolen during the Shoah. Proceeds from heirless properties could provide homecare, warm meals, medical care, and winter relief to elderly Shoah victims.

The Claims Conference, as the largest provider of services to Holocaust survivors worldwide, is painfully aware of the inadequacy of the current funds to meet their needs. Others have joined us in recognizing the needs and the urgency of addressing them. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest Jewish foundations in the world, has just announced a $10 million fund for emergency needs for Shoah survivors in North America.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/claims-conference-will-not-be-deterred/2010/08/04/

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