17 charged over £25 million Holocaust survivor fraud

By Paul Berger, November 11, 2010
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Seventeen people have been charged with participating in a wide-ranging and long-running conspiracy to defraud the Claims Conference out of $42.5 million (£25 million).

Six of those named in New York this week were current or former employees of the organisation that supports Holocaust survivors around the world.

The employees allegedly approved more than 5,500 fraudulent claims over more than 15 years.

Claims Conference chairman Julius Berman called the fraud "an affront to human decency".

This is an affront to human decency

Claims chair Julius Berman

The Claims Conference hired a private law firm last November to investigate employee suspicions that co-workers had approved fraudulent claims.

In December, the organisation passed its findings to the FBI and to the Manhattan District Attorney, Preet Bharara.

In an email to Claims Conference board members, Mr Berman revealed that a staff member involved in investigating the fraud received a death threat earlier this year.

The fraud was targeted at two funds, the Hardship Fund and the Article 2 Fund.

The alleged ringleader, Semyon Domnitser, oversaw both funds. He was fired in February.

According to Mr Bahara, the fraudsters faked documents, altering places of birth, identities and evidence of persecution during the Nazi era, in order to qualify for claims.

The Hardship Fund makes a one-off payment of $3,600 (£2,250) to Jews who were evacuated during the Second World War. About 5,000 Hardship Fund claims are thought to be fraudulent. Some of the recipients were born after the war and at least one person was not Jewish, according to
Mr Bahara.

The Article 2 Fund makes monthly pension payments of $411 (£250) to some of the poorest survivors. About 650 Article 2 Fund claims are believed to be fraudulent and have been
suspended.

The Claims Conference reported that 29 people have repaid their pensions or have indicated their willingness to repay. A further 74 people have appealed the suspension of their
pension.

The Claims Conference this week closed the New York office that processed applications for both funds. New applications will be processed in Germany and in Israel. It has also tightened procedures for accepting documentary evidence in support of claims.

The accused face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 (£150,000).

    Last updated: 3:21pm, November 11 2010