Lawsuit Increases Scrutiny of World Jewish Congress
By NATHANIEL POPPER
January 20, 2006
While the World Jewish Congress continues to be under investigation by the New York attorney general, a separate lawsuit in Israel is bringing further scrutiny on two top figures close to the organization.
Israel Singer, chairman of the WJC, and Zvi Barak, a consultant to the organization, are coming under fire in a lawsuit filed by Vera Keller, the widow of a former WJC supporter. Keller's late husband, Leslie, set up a foundation in 2000 that is now run by Barak and Singer's son, Elie, and also an Israeli relative of Keller whose role in the case is unclear.
The case is being pursued by Vera Keller's grandnephew, Menachem Kahn, who has her power of attorney. The complaint alleges that since Leslie Keller died in early 2003, the $1 million foundation has given out grants with no accountability to Vera Keller and her family.
Kahn's affidavit also says that Israel Singer attempted to wrest control of Keller's will in the months before Keller died.
The lawyer representing the foundation's trustees, Elad Mann, said the case "has no standing on the procedural grounds or on its merits. It will be dismissed in a short time."
Calls to Israel Singer were directed to the secretary general of the WJC, Stephen Herbits. Herbits said that the WJC had no role in the case. However, Herbits has compiled a report on it, which says that the allegations involved "are scurrilous and completely false."
Singer and Barak, a Tel Aviv attorney whose offices are the mailing address for the foundation, are also at the center of a dispute over transfers to and from the WJC's Geneva bank account.
That dispute arose after Singer transferred $1.2 million from a Geneva bank account to a custodial account controlled by Barak in London. Barak had no official role in the WJC at the time, but he has since become a consultant to the organization. The case in Israel involves criticism of Barak and Singer from persons outside the circle of critics who have been hammering at the WJC over the Geneva controversy.
Some of the charges in the Keller case involve Singer. Two of Keller's grandnephews state in their affidavits that Singer tried to convince Keller to sign a will that would have made Singer the executor of Keller's will, along with another associate of Keller, David Moskovits.
One of the grandnephews, Kahn, told the Forward that a few weeks after Leslie Keller died, in March 2003, Moskovits and Singer came to Vera Keller's house and presented the will naming them as executors as a done deal — a deal from which Kahn says they later backed away.
Singer's son, Elie, told the Forward: "This is false and the suggestion is preposterous. These outrageous accusations do not merit a response."
Kahn's version is also refuted in an affidavit written by Moskovits. He states that Keller became good friends with Singer in his last 15 years, and it was Keller who asked Singer to sign the will and become his executor. According to Moskovits, Singer turned down the request multiple times.
Moskovits states that the lawsuit was brought by "a few of Keller's relatives who seem to have misrepresented the intentions of Mr. Keller... because it seems they think they could benefit financially from doing so."
A lawyer for Vera Keller said the lawsuit came about only after the foundation trustees refused to release basic financial information about the foundation to Vera Keller — particularly information about where the foundation's grants were going.
"We came into this extremely innocently, thinking we would ask for information and get it," said a lawyer in the office of Menachem Harutz, which is representing the Kellers. "We had no idea how complicated everything would be."
The foundation did present financial documents for 2003 and 2004 in its response to the lawsuit. Most of the grants in 2003 — after Leslie Keller died — went to Jewish research projects. But the first grant after Keller's death, for $5,000, went to the WJC office in Buenos Aires.
The foundation was created in 2000, with the goal of aiding "study and research of the Jewish heritage."
When the foundation was created, Israel Singer was listed as a trustee along with two WJC employees. When those two left the WJC in 2003 and 2004 Barak and Elie Singer were chosen to replace them at the foundation.
The grandnephews have asked the court to allow the family to appoint new trustees who will carry out Leslie Keller's original wishes. The case is scheduled to open February 8 in Jerusalem district court.
Thieves breed thieves, like sex abusers breed molesters.