Lord Kagan, the Jewish textile manufacturer who became a close associate of former Premier Harold Wilson, has gone to prison for 10 months and faces fines totalling more than one million Pounds Sterling for stealing from his own company.
Kogan, 64, is the latest member of Wilson’s circle of Jewish associates to become enmeshed in a financial scandal. Sir Eric Miller, the onetime honorary treasurer of the Socialist International, shot himself three years ago after being accused of misappropriating money from his company.
Although Kagan was not identified with organized Jewish life in this country, press and television coverage of his trial and relationship with Wilson have given prominence to his Jewish background. In his trial, in which he admitted stealing blue dye from his denim factory in Yorkshire, Kogan claimed that he put the proceeds into a secret Swiss bank account and used them for a secret fund to aid Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe.
In a television interview, Israeli Labor Knesset member Menachem Savidor praised Kogan for having enabled Jews to leave the USSR of a time when it had been virtually impossible to do so. About a dozen Jews, including Kagan’s brother, were involved.
Last year, after investigation began into his affairs, Kogan went into hiding in Israel with his secretary and was quoted in the Israeli press as claiming he was the target of a witch hunt against associates of Wilson. He left Israel for the continent and was extradited from France in the summer.
HOD ADVENTUROUS, DRAMATIC LIFE
A survivor of the Holocaust, he had on adventurous and dramatic life. He originally come to England from Lithuania in the early 1930s with his father and uncle, who set up a textile firm in Huddersfield. After studying of Leeds University, Kogan visited Lithuania with his mother and was trapped there when that country was occupied by the Soviet Union.
Kagan met his wife, Margaret, in Kovno and after the Nazis marched in he and his wife and mother survived in a specially built hiding place. At the end of the war, Kogan and his wife trekked to Rumania and eventually returned to England: A leading clothier, he invented the famous Gannex fabric raincoats, popularized by Wilson and Prince Phillip. He became a financial backer of Wilson who first made him a Knight and then, in 1976, made him a member of the House of Lords.
In his trial, he pleaded guilty. However, he still maintains that he was “set up” as part of a campaign to discredit Wilson. In on interview, he also claims that he was tricked by a customs and excise officer who agreed to meet him privately in Paris last April. When they met, he was arrested, watched and filmed by BBC camera crews.
In the wake of the trial, interest is also focussing on disclosures that 10 years ago, Kagon used to play chess with a Soviet diplomat who was later shown to be a member of the KGB, the Soviet spy network. This was at a time when Kagon had easy access to Premier Wilson at 10 Downing Street. Wilson is expected to make a statement on the case later this week.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.