Lauder accused of trying to buy Jewish election in Vienna

Ronald Lauder, shown in a 2009 photo, is denying accusations that he offered millions of dollars to board members of the the Jewish Community of Vienna in exchange for electing his candidate as president. (Creative Commons)

Ronald Lauder, shown in a 2009 photo, is denying accusations that he offered millions of dollars to board members of the the Jewish Community of Vienna in exchange for electing his candidate as president. (Creative Commons)

(JTA) — The head of Vienna’s Jewish community accused Ronald Lauder of trying to buy the election for the community presidency, JTA has learned.

In a letter dated Dec. 3, Vienna community president Oskar Deutsch accused Lauder, the cosmetics magnate and president of the World Jewish Congress, of offering $5.8 million to board members of the Jewish Community of Vienna in exchange for electing Martin Engelberg as president.

A spokesman for Lauder denied the claims.

The letter, which Deutsch sent to presidents of other European Jewish communities, alleges that Lauder deposited $720,000 with a lawyer from Vienna, Daniel Charim, as a "guarantee."

"For some 25 years, Ambassador Lauder has demonstrated through word and deed his support for the Viennese Jewish community," said Gary Lewi, a Lauder spokesman. "It was Ambassador Lauder’s intent that the Jewish community of Vienna decide their own path and vote according to individual conscience and their own best interest. In repudiating these unfounded and irresponsible allegations in the strongest terms possible, he continues to stand with this proud and dynamic community today and far into the future. However, let there be no mistake: These allegations are despicable and without any basis in truth."

Lauder, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria and a major philanthropist who supports Jewish causes in Eastern Europe, is reported to be worth more than $3 billion. He lives in New York.

According to the letter, Lauder and Engelberg gradually increased their offers to representatives of three of the board’s 10 parties in an effort to persuade them to elect Engelberg in the presidential election. The effort was unsuccessful and Deutsch won the election; Vienna’s Jewish community has some 8,000 members.

Deutsch described Lauder’s alleged actions as "illegal, a breach of halachah [Jewish religious law] and immoral," and asked the European Jewish Congress and WJC officials to "take action."

"It is unacceptable that Mr. Lauder tries ‘to buy’ a community or its president," Deutsch wrote in his letter.

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