Pressure Mounts on Claims Conference Chief Over Fraud Probe

Julius Berman Faces New Criticism Over Investigation

Pressure Rises: Claims Conference board members and outside groups are raising calls for Julius Berman to allow an independent investigation into his role in the botched probe of multimillion dollar fraud at the Holocaust restitution group.
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Pressure Rises: Claims Conference board members and outside groups are raising calls for Julius Berman to allow an independent investigation into his role in the botched probe of multimillion dollar fraud at the Holocaust restitution group.

By Paul Berger

Published June 07, 2013, issue of June 14, 2013.
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The FBI and the Justice Department investigations focused on prosecuting the fraudsters, an effort that resulted in 28 guilty pleas and three convictions. A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said his office could not comment on the Claims Conference’s handling of the 2001 letter.

Deloitte was hired by the German government after the Claims Conference had tightened security following discovery of the fraud. Deloitte’s aim was to “identify any potential weaknesses and recommend improvements,” according to a May 8 letter from Berman to board members. A spokesman for the German Ministry of Finance said: “It was agreed that the report would be treated confidentially.”

Neither Berman nor the Claims Conference has described the scope of the select leadership committee’s inquiry. Merhav did not respond to requests for comment.

Kessler-Godin said: “The committee … has been formed to formulate an appropriate course of action for the Claims Conference with respect to the issues surrounding the 2001 letter. All issues on this topic will be referred to this committee. Once the work of this committee is complete, its findings and recommendations will be made public.”

Kent told the Forward on June 3 that the parameters of the investigation would be decided at the committee’s first meeting, due to be held that week. “The committee was formed for certain reasons and I will see what [they are],” Kent said.

Kent said he had not seen the letter from the American Gathering calling for an independent investigation, and was not interested in reading it for comment.

Kent and Berman have a famously antagonistic relationship, clashing often over Claims Conference spending. But Seltzer, who has worked closely with Kent for decades, said the antagonists share a devotion to survivors.

If Kent and Berman believe it is in the survivors’ interest to “clear the name of the Claims Conference,” they will do so, Seltzer said. “This is truly for the welfare of the Jewish people. And they will want to clear it up,” she said.

Seltzer, though, believes that only an independent investigation can silence Claims Conference critics who allege that the 2001 letter was mishandled. “Otherwise, no matter what, people will still be throwing rocks,” she said.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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