Claims Conference appoints ombudsman

NEW YORK (JTA) – The organization that manages billions of dollars of Holocaust reparations payments voted to appoint an independent ombudsman.

The decision on the ombudsman came Wednesday at a board of directors meeting.

It follows years of complaints in the Jewish community that the Claims Conference has not been adequately responsive to inquiries of survivors and their families. It also comes a year after the discovery of a $40 million fraud at the Claims Conference involving several employees. Claims Conference leaders worked with law-enforcement authorities to uncover and investigate the fraud.

It’s not yet clear exactly what the ombudsman’s role will be at the Claims Conference; that’s to be defined within the next two months.

The ombudsman should be “a person of stature and probity, with unquestioned integrity, who is neither a recipient of funds from the Claims Conference, nor has any connection to any member organization of the Claims Conference,” the board said in its resolution on Wednesday.

Some of the representatives on the Claims Conference’s board come from organizations that are themselves recipients of grants from the Claims Conference. The Claims Conference says board members recuse themselves from decisions regarding grants to their own organizations.

This week, the board also expressed “complete confidence in the leadership and management of the Claims Conference.” The current executive vice president of the Claims Conference is Gregory Schneider.

The chairman of the Claims Conference, Julius Berman, told JTA before the vote that the idea was to bring in “an ombudsman that is not beholden to any of the organizations or to management or to me or to Greg — an ombudsman that is way above and beyond everyone else.”

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