In a change of course, the organization that disperses Holocaust restitution funds has decided to review the past financial practices of March of the Living, a Holocaust education group dogged by allegations of financial impropriety.
The Conference on Material Claims Against Germany confirmed Monday that it had instructed its chief auditor to examine allegations that March of the Living wrongly dispersed $709,000 to a politically connected consultant from 2002 through 2005.
The new mandate to the conference’s auditor expanded the scope of a previously ordered audit. After a May 4 article in The Jewish Week raised questions about March of the Living’s outlays to public relations consultant Curtis Hoxter, the conference ordered an audit of the group, one of its major grant recipients — but not for the period in question.
Claims Conference spokesperson Hillary Kessler Godin said at the time that the audit would look only at “procedures of March of the Living that are currently in place.”
It is not clear what prompted the change in instructions. But one key member of the conference’s control committee was reportedly “outraged” by the conference’s initial position, according to a source monitoring the situation. The source spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve his relationship with the committee member.
According to Godin, the control committee instructed its chief auditor to “carry out an in-depth review” of March of the Living that “will also cover the recent accusations” against the group. She confirmed this would encompass review of March of the Living’s outlays to Hoxter from 2003 through 2005.
In the May 4 Jewish Week article, neither Hoxter nor March of the Living officials were able to explain what Hoxter did for the money. The article noted that Hoxter was a longtime associate of Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson and former World Jewish Congress and current Claims Conference president Israel Singer. It also noted that Singer had been in discussions with Hoxter about becoming a partner in his public relations firm.
Singer was ousted from the WJC last March amid charges he had mishandled or misappropriated millions of dollars. He has admitted some of these charges but denied others. He remains president of the Claims Conference until July, when new elections are scheduled; Singer will not seek re-election.
Hirschson is currently on leave from his Finance Ministry post due to a police investigation into charges that he earlier embezzled union funds.
The March of the Living outlays to Hoxter began the same year Singer was ordered to stop channeling earlier WJC expenditures to him. The WJC funds to Hoxter were never reported on the group’s tax reports, as required by law, and were, according to WJC leaders, unknown to them until their accidental discovery in 2003.
That same year, Hirschson, a longtime Singer associate who founded and, for many years, led March of the Living, introduced Hoxter to the group’s current leaders and urged them to hire him.Singer has denied exerting any influence to get Hoxter hired by March of the Living.
The Claims Conference, meanwhile, has stressed that Singer, its president, takes no part in its allocations process. The Claims Conference has funded March of the Living for many years with annual grants of about $700,000. The conference also emphasizes that these funds are earmarked exclusively to subsidize students who sign up for March of the Living’s spring educational tours to Holocaust death camps in Poland and then on to Israel. The outlays to Hoxter came from other sources.