The Board of Deputies president has said he was “deeply concerned” by alleged financial misconduct at the Jewish Leadership Council.
Jonathan Arkush said the JC’s revelation of the alleged misuse of funds by Jeremy Newmark when he was JLC chief executive five years ago, “came as a shock”.
Mr Arkush had heard rumours at the time, but claimed his predecessor at the Board, Vivian Wineman, had not informed him about the issue when asked.
The JLC now needed to find “the strength of character” to “clear up the mess” arising from the allegations, Mr Arkush said.
Earlier this month the JC reported that an internal audit conducted by the JLC five years ago alleged that Mr Newmark had billed the organisation for thousands of pounds of unwarranted personal expenses over a two-year period, as well as inflating the cost of JLC projects.
Mr Newmark resigned as JLC chief executive in October 2013, on grounds of ill health. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Addressing a Board meeting last Sunday, Mr Arkush told deputies he was “very sorry” that the British Jewish community’s integrity had been damaged by the affair. He suggested the Board may now seek to absorb the JLC.
He said: “I want to assure you that the first I heard about [the allegations] was one day before they were reported, when I was notified of it by the JLC.
“My predecessor [Mr Wineman], who had been a trustee at the JLC at the time, did not indicate the matters to me when I asked him at the time because he said he was bound by trustee confidentiality to the JLC.”
Each Board president sits as a JLC trustee during their tenure.
Mr Arkush said: “It is not our function to do anything other than to offer help and support to another communal organisation that is going through difficulties, and I certainly have no intention of taking any advantage of the situation.”
However, he added that he wanted “to make sure as part of my duty as a trustee, and to the community, and on behalf of the Board of Deputies, that the Jewish Leadership Council cleans up the mess that it has found itself in.
“The most important thing the Jewish Leadership Council has to do now is to pursue independent legal and financial investigations, so that they can help repair the damage to the integrity, not just to the JLC’s finances, not just to the JLC’s standard as a charity, but actually to the whole of the Jewish community, because we’ve all been impacted adversely, and I feel very sorry about that.”
He also suggested that “once the Jewish Leadership Council can find the necessary strength of character to clean up the mess that surrounds it at the moment, we might then begin to look again, as in a way we’ve never stopped doing, how the JLC might come within the Board.
“I would welcome a state of affairs in the future, whereby the Jewish Leadership Council, probably with a change of name and a number of other changes, could find its way to come within the Board’s structure and therefore be responsible to the democratic will of the elected representatives of our community. That is an aim which I think my successor could usefully look for.”
Mr Arkush announced last month that he would not stand for re-election as president when his three-year term ends later this year.
In a written answer to questions from deputies before the meeting, Mr Arkush said the Board had “strong financial controls in place, as well as a culture of transparency”.
He wrote: “No employee of the Board has a company car. There is a single Board credit card which no employee routinely carries with him or her outside the office.
“I agree that if any such incident were to occur, it should be reported to the proper regulatory and other authorities and not covered up.
“You can rest assured that our finances are clean, efficient, well-conducted and full of integrity. We of course have independent auditors.”
Asked by the JC about Mr Arkush’s comments, Mr Wineman said: “It’s a long time ago. I will have to think about that one.”
On Wednesday, the JLC announced that it had decided to set up an independent review into the allegations surrounding Mr Newmark.