Julius Berman, the chairman of the Claims Conference board, insisted he is not to blame for botching an investigation into a 2001 letter exposing massive fraud at the Holocaust restitution organization.
“Somebody dropped the ball. That’s this issue,” Berman, 77, said in a new interview. “My conscience is totally clean on the role I played.”
As counsel to the Claims Conference in 2001, Berman oversaw a probe into the letter, which detailed a fraud scheme masterminded by employees at the group. He is now the restitution group’s chairman, a position he has held for more than a decade.
That probe into the anonymous letter was conducted by a paralegal in Berman’s law office of Kaye Scholer and resulted in an eight-page report filed on Sept. 4, 2001. In the report, which was obtained by JTA, paralegal Ryan Tan recommends further questioning of Domnitser and calls for more investigation. There is no evidence that its recommendations were implemented.
Berman said his role in 2001 as counsel, a pro bono position that required fielding the occasional phone call and showing up to one-day-a-year meetings, did not make him privy to the internal processes of the Claims Conference. After the report he oversaw was produced, Berman passed it along to the head of the Claims Conference, Gideon Taylor, who told JTA that he gave it to Karl Brozik, the group’s director in Germany.
In Wednesday’s interview, Berman stood by comments he made to JTA in late 2011 saying he felt “no fault at all” for the fraud, that the controls in place at the Claims Conference to prevent fraud were “reasonably adequate” and that the deception discovered in 2009 was as impossible to anticipate as the attacks of 9/11.
Asked this week if the 2001 episode qualified as the “one-time” warning that should have put the organization – and Berman – on notice, he said it did not.
“Once you set up a procedure you believe covers the situation, you usually don’t go back and review it again and again,” Berman said. “You may have to trust the people you trust.
“Only as a matter of hindsight it becomes clear,” he added. “If Y and Z are in cahoots, then you really haven’t done anything.”
As chairman of the Claims Conference, Berman said it wasn’t his place to investigate allegations of mishandled claims, nor was he privy to such complaints. Berman said the 2001 episode was the only time he was ever aware of allegations of fraud at the conference.
“Do I know with any kind of authority one way or the other? I say no, I proudly say no,” he said. “I can’t get involved in that kind of minutiae.”