PRAGUE (Mar. 10)
Czech officials plan to shelve an investigation into the mysterious death of a top American Jewish official nearly 40 years ago, despite suspicions that he may have been murdered.
The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes is considering dropping the case of Charles Jordan for lack of evidence — even though officials say they are now “investigating the suspicion of the crime of murder.”
The move comes as a team of Czech investigative journalists claims to have uncovered fresh evidence since they made a television documentary about Jordan’s death last year.
The body of Jordan, vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, was found floating in the Vltava River close to the Charles Bridge on Aug. 20, 1967, four days after he disappeared from the Esplanade Hotel in central Prague.
Jordan apparently had told his wife he was going to buy a pack of cigarettes, but no one saw him leave the hotel.
Investigators decided to focus on the murder theory last October, three weeks after the documentary presented some new leads.
They concluded that it’s unlikely that Jordan — who had a fear of water and was unable to swim — chose to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Vltava. It was “highly improbable” that Jordan’s drowning was the result of an accident, they said.
The documentary, “Father of the Refugees,” claimed that the Czech secret service was heavily involved in Jordan’s death, which came two months after Israel’s stunning victory over several Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Jordan, an expert on refugees, allegedly was trying to make secret deals with Arab and Communist regimes, buying freedom for Jews who lived there.
Jordan “had no qualms about negotiating on behalf of refugees with his country’s ideological enemies,” the documentary said. “He ran the risk of being branded an enemy agent and a traitor.”
The documentary suggests that Jordan also may have made enemies because of a groundbreaking plan to rehabilitate Palestinian refugees, which he was due to present at the United Nations a week after his death.
The documentary makers have presented new evidence to the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes suggesting a strong Arab link to Jordan’s death.
Martin Smok, co-author of “Father of the Refugees,” said the evidence emerged when a new witness came forward after the documentary.
According to Smok, the new witness said that his former schoolteacher, Marie Podloucka, with whom he had a “strong relationship,” had told him repeatedly that on the night of Jordan’s disappearance she had allowed some Arab “commandos” to access the Esplanade Hotel via her apartment, which was next door.
She also allegedly claimed to have helped drag Jordan’s unconscious body out of her flat.
Smok said the witness also claimed Podloucka told him she had hidden “the Arab students who participated in the murder at her country house,” and that “the Egyptian Embassy had something to do with the whole action.”
Smok said a subsequent review of the criminal investigation file from 1967 showed a reference to a disturbance involving some Arabs at Podloucka’s home, which was described as having “direct access to the Esplanade Hotel.”
The documentary team then visited the village in central Moravia where Podloucka has her country home.
“We were told spontaneously by the first person we approached in the village that Podloucka had a country house there but died some 15 years ago,” Smok said. “The person told us, ‘You know, she even had some Arabs there, some delegation or I don’t know what, many years ago. They were celebrating something, caused trouble, drove their cars in the fields and in the end had to pay for the damages.’ “
Smok said investigators apparently showed no interest in following up the lead, instead threatening him for not revealing his source’s name.
“I am being punished for sharing information with them, which if they were willing to perform any work on it could lead to the names of Jordan’s murderers within a couple of weeks,” Smok said.
But Jan Srb, a spokesman for the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes, or UDV, said the case would be shelved for lack of evidence.
The office recently questioned one witness linked to the village, “and what Mr. Smok told us was not confirmed,” Srb said.
“The case should have been shelved last year,” Srb said. “On orders of the state prosecutor, the UDV examined some information from the film. It didn’t bring anything new.”
The JDC’s country director for the Czech Republic, Yechiel Bar-Chaim, said in a statement that the committee “is keenly interested in seeing all new leads in this case vigorously pursued. We believe that the current status of this investigation for the murder of one of our top officials continues to be worthy of public interest.”
But documentary director Petr Bok said he was not surprised by Czech authorities’ apparent lack of enthusiasm to continue investigating Jordan’s death.
“This case is perhaps a Pandora’s Box involving secret-service games and the Middle East. It’s still a hot topic today,” he said.