For the first time since the conviction of all 31 people arrested in connection with the defrauding of $57.3 million from the Claims Conference, the organization’s board will meet July 9 to discuss its next steps – and it has decided to keep the meeting closed to the public.

Despite requests from the New York Jewish Week and the Forward , the board chairman, Julius Berman, said in a statement:

“It is the longstanding policy of the Claims Conference that its meetings of the Board of Directors are not open to the public. Meetings of the Claims Conference Board of Directors are closed to the public in order that members of the board may feel free to speak openly. There are often very frank, prolonged discussions where differences of opinion are exchanged and there may be members of the board who would not want to speak in such a manner if they knew that the meetings were open to the public and the media.”

A spokeswoman for the Claims Conference, formally known as the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said a report prepared by the organization’s ombudsman on how next to proceed would be presented to an internal task force that was appointed by Berman in the wake of the scandal. But she declined a request by The Jewish Week for a copy of the report, and said she was not certain when it and the task force’s recommendations would be released.

The decision to close the board meeting comes as questions continue to be asked about how the organization could have permitted the fraud to continue for nearly 20 years. It was not discovered until November 2009 and is believed to have begun in 1994.

New questions were raised earlier this year when it was revealed that an anonymous letter in 2001 detailing the fraud in explicit detail was all but ignored by the organization’s leadership at the time.

And in court papers filed June 10 in connection with a related matter, Sam Dubbin, a Miami a lawyer representing Holocaust survivors, cited the scandal in questioning the Claims Conference’s competency.

“In recent weeks there have been substantiated news reports concerning the Claims Conference’s negligence and oversight – or worse – of two German compensation funds, their dismissal in 2001 of information detailing the ongoing fraud despite internal corroboration of improprieties, and denials by current Claims Conference leaders about their
personal involvement, knowledge, or responsibility concerning the 2001 evidence.”

Dubbin said the survivors he represents “believe these detailed and disturbing reports constitute such information `that might reasonably be expected to alter’” the court’s decision to allow the Claims Conference to handle the allocation of $54 million remaining from a $1.25 billion settlement of all Holocaust-era claims against Swiss banks.

stewart@jewishweek.org