Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Is Embezzling A Jewish Organizational Problem?

$3.8 million spent without supporting documentation
3 February 2007

Auditing company PriceWaterhouseCoopers has discovered an “undocumented” $3.8 million on the WJC’s books. A polite way of saying that the money has vanished into thin air – without supporting documentation

At the beginning of 2004, the World Jewish Congress (WJC), which has its headquarters in New York, closes down its offices in Geneva from one day to the next and dismisses its staff. Utterly shocked, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, an umbrella organization for Switzerland’s Jewish communities, calls for explanations. After all, the World Jewish Congress was set up in Geneva in 1936, was it not? In addition, lawyer Daniel Lack, the WJC’s representative at the United Nations, has identified some strange monetary operations. In several transfers, 1.2 million dollars left New York and landed in Geneva, before being transferred to Israel, then to London. Eventually, the money reappears in New York, without any obvious reason.

“Instead of giving us a direct reply, Israel Singer, the president of the Board of the WJC, chose to make a scene in public by distorting the facts, and calling us into question. Nobody was even interested in hearing me,” says Daniel Lack, a foreign lawyer registered at the Geneva bar. Relations between Israel Singer and Switzerland’s Jewish communities have never been particularly cordial. Alfred Donath, president of the FSCI – the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities – leveled harsh criticism at Singer for having called Swiss neutrality during World War II a “crime.” “Unacceptable” accusations, Alfred Donath called these comments.

Serious lapses

As a result of the WJC’s silence, Switzerland’s Jews would insist on an audit being carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. This happened in December 2006 – not an audit but a report, since individuals asked to attend refused to answer questions. The report is damning. The WJC’s financial records and accounts between 1995 and 2004 confirm “the charges that accounts were not kept properly and financial positions were not clear.” Reference can even be made to “serious lapses,” since in addition to the $1.2 million already referred to, an additional $3.8 million are not “documented.” In other words, large amounts have been disbursed in cash for no reason and gone to unknown destinations.

“We want the World Jewish Congress to part company with the leaders who are responsible for this situation, in order to restore the communities’ confidence in the WJC,” Alfred Donath says emphatically, speaking as president of the 18,000 member strong FSCI. He notes that this powerful organization, which has been headed by Edgar Bronfman since 1981, has made a start on re-establishing order in its house. In an editorial which appeared last Friday, Gary Rosenblatt, a journalist with New York’s Jewish Week, expressed the hope that in the future, the World Jewish Congress will spend less time and energy on revenge against fellow Jews who have the audacity to express criticism of it – especially when such criticism is justified.

Try this too -

Demand for Israel Singer’s resignation

Swiss Jews feel that an investigation has confirmed their criticism of the financial conduct of the World Jewish Congress (WJC). Now they’re demanding the resignation of Israel Singer from the WJC’s top leadership

Luzi Bernet

After the conclusion of investigations into financial transactions of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Geneva, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (FSCI), Swiss Jewry’s umbrella organization, is demanding that Israel Singer resign from his positions at the head of the WJC. In addition, the FSCI is calling for an apology for the WJC’s “defamation campaign” against Swiss Jews. These two demands are voiced by the FSCI president, Alfred Donath, when asked about the situation. “It is time for those who are responsible in the World Jewish Congress for these shortcomings in their bookkeeping practices to resign from their positions now,” says Donath, “and that also includes Israel Singer.”

The background to these demands are investigations undertaken by the auditing company of PriceWaterhouseCoopers at the Geneva offices of the WJC. The audit was demanded by the FSCI in April 2004, after rumours about irregularities in the WJC’s accounts made the round in Geneva. Among other things, the WJC’s former secretary-general Israel Singer was suspected of having used monies for personal purposes. Finally, the WJC authorized an independent investigation into the disbursement of $1.2 million which in an unclear fashion made the rounds of New York, Geneva, London and Tel Aviv. The experts also examined the Geneva WJC’s bookkeeping from 1995 to 2004.

For FSCI president Alfred Donath, the investigation confirms the suspicions of “unsatisfactory bookkeeping and a non-transparent financial situation” at the WJC, as a communiqué put it. According to Donath, in the report, in addition to the $1.2 million, another $3.8 million surfaced whose use is completely undocumented. In neither case, admittedly, were the experts able to come up with any proof that illegal transactions had taken place, but, as Donath puts it, “in any case the report shows that the bookkeeping in Geneva was extremely faulty.” The same result was also reached a year ago by an investigation of the then Attorney General of New York. Eliot Spitzer. Singer was required to pay back to the WJC more than $300,000 which he had received in “inappropriate disbursements.”

Because of the FCSI’s demand that the Geneva accounts be checked, the Swiss organization had come under great pressure in the Jewish world. “Instead of re-establishing order in its own house, the WJC fought those who drew attention to irregularities,” says Donath. He himself and other Jewish whistleblowers, he said, had become the objects of a vilification campaign. “The WJC should apologize,” observes Donath. However, for the FCSI, he says, the matter is now closed. They did not intend to report the matter to the police because it was now up to the WJC to deal with things. Donath continues to maintain that his intervention in 2004 was justified. “If we had done nothing, the Swiss Jews would have been accomplices. We couldn’t allow this to happen to us.”

At the WJC, nobody is willing to comment on Donath’s statements. In confidence, however, there is astonishment that the Swiss Jews have gone public now of all times. Nothing has changed recently as far as the facts are concerned. It is intimated that the statements might perhaps have a purely political background. The allusion is to things that are going on in the WJC’s head office in New York, where a public fight over the organization’s leadership has broken out. The WJC’s long-time president, Edgar Bronfman, wants to put his oft-stated intention into practice and retire. He has chosen his son Matthew, who is already on the WJC board, as his successor. Ronald Lauder has protested against such a development. Also active in the WJC for many years, the mega-billionaire wants to take over the organization’s reins himself. The WJC is not a monarchy, Lauder comments.

The Bronfmann-Singer leadership duo is also under attack from the Israeli branch, because the New York head office made staff changes in Jerusalem without agreement. At the same time, a libel suit which the WJC brought in Israel against its internal critic, Isi Leibler, ended with a setback: the association will have to pay $55,000 to its former vice-president.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These articles are drivel. the swiss jewish community has been long looking for a way to discredit the wjc. they were against the restitution negotiations from the start, as they felt that the international jewish community had no right making waves on the turf that they were living their lives. bronfman and singer were their nemeses for years. the fact that they are so hostile toward the people who negotiated with the swiss bankers is not surprising. frankly, i think the swiss jewish communit has some nerve being against the restitution negotiations. what goives them the right to hold back on procuring financial settlments for thousands of survivors simply because they feel it makes their place in swiss society a bit less comfortable. i myself was told this years ago at a shabat dinner in the zurich jewish community. now i see this article against bromnfman and singer and i have to laugh. the swiss jewish community seems to have a longer memory than the mafya.