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Kabbalah Centre facing federal probe

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — The Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre is under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal division.

Two charities connected to Madonna, the nonprofit center’s most high-profile celebrity supporter, reportedly also are involved in the probe.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the IRS is looking into whether funds were diverted for the personal use of the Berg family, which has run the Kabbalah Centre for more than 40 years.

Karen Berg, 68, became CEO after her husband, Philip, 81, who had been its head rabbi since 1969, suffered a stroke in 2004. She runs the organization with the help of sons Michael, 37, and Yehuda, 38.

The center’s assets are valued at more than $260 million. Exact totals are unclear, the Times reported, because the center has tax-exempt status as a religious organization and is not required to make its tax filings public.

The children’s charity Raising Malawi, which broke off ties with the Kabbalah Centre in March, is cooperating with the investigation, the Times reported. Madonna heads  Raising Malawi, which does work in the African nation of Malawi and is the subject of a grand jury investigation in New York along with the Kabbalah Centre and the Bergs.

In a statement, the Kabbalah Centre said it has received government subpoenas “concerning tax-related issues,” along with a second charity, its Spirituality for Kids initiative. Madonna chaired the latter’s board and donated $600,000 to the organization, according to the Times.

Madonna herself is not named in the IRS probe, according to the Times.

The Kabbalah Centre is credited with spurring popular interest in Jewish mysticism, although it has been criticized by mainstream Jewish leaders. The center grew enormously after Madonna began studying there in 1996 and raised its public profile. It now has branches in 31 countries and includes many celebrities among its followers.

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