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Prague Jews may sue travel guide writer

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PRAGUE, Aug. 2 (JTA) — Jewish leaders here are considering legal action over a book published in the United States claiming that huge sums of money “disappeared” from the Jewish community’s coffers over a period of several years.

The allegation — which appears in the 1999 book “The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe: A Travel Guide and Resource Book to Prague, Warsaw, Crakow & Budapest” — was dismissed by the Prague Jewish community, which said its reputation was being damaged.

The book’s author, New York-based writer Eli Valley, worked in Prague’s community for several years organizing cultural and religious events until 1997.

In the book, he argued that Prague had become one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in Europe through money received from restituted properties and tourist revenues.

He also wrote, “The enormous amount of capital flowing into the Community has created unprecedented opportunities for corruption and mismanagement.

“It is an open secret in the Jewish Community that millions of Czech crowns disappear every year. The question remains as to how many individuals are involved in the ‘disappearance.’ ”

One million Czech crowns is currently worth about $25,000.

The chairman of the Prague Jewish Community, Tomas Jelinek, said that although the book was published two years ago, it had only recently been brought to his attention by a visitor from the United States.

“We are now taking legal advice,” Jelinek said.

“The statements in this book are untrue and are damaging the reputation of the Prague Jewish Community and its attempts to build an independent and strong Jewish community in Central Europe.”

Jelinek stressed that the community’s finances have long been handled in a transparent manner.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, the Prague Jewish Community “has always had democratic institutions in terms of checks and balances, such as an elected parliament and supervisory board, which were able to examine the financial management of the community,” he said.

Jelinek also took issue with another statement in the book — that the Prague Jewish leadership had refused to open its financial records to the public.

“As the activities of the Prague Jewish Community have expanded over the past few years, it has required a more professional approach to its business,” Jelinek said. “This is why this year, for the first time, we arranged an independent audit that was positive.”

A further comment in the book that “unfathomable amounts of cash are disappearing while scores of Czech Holocaust survivors subsist in poverty” was also dismissed by Jelinek, who argued that the Prague Jewish Community had developed “very extensive projects” for survivors, including a day care center for the elderly, an old people’s home and a home care service.

Valley, the son of a New York rabbi, expressed surprise that the community was contemplating legal action.

“I have never heard anything but positive feedback about my book from Czech Jewry,” he said.

Given the possibility of legal action, he refused further comment.

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