Aussie Jews backing philanthropist


Australian Jewish officials have broken their silence on a criminal case that pits two high-profile Jews against each other.

Philanthropist Richard Pratt is facing a possible four-year jail term for allegedly lying under oath in 2005 in Australia’s biggest cartel case, brought by Graeme Samuel, the head of the consumer watchdog group Australian Competition & Consumer Commission.

Pratt, 73, was fined about $35 million by the Federal Court last year following charges in a civil case for his role in a price-fixing scam.

Samuel, a former president of the Jewish National Fund in Melbourne, has vehemently denied he is engaging in a “personal vendetta” against Pratt, whose major philanthropy within the Jewish community has been renowned for two decades.

The Australian newspaper on Wednesday quoted Robert Goot, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, as saying the Jewish community remained silent during the civil proceedings, but the criminal case “is something completely different.”

Jack Smorgon, the federal president of the United Israel Appeal, said many Jews were “outraged that after being penalized he was charged again.”

The enmity between Pratt and Samuel dates back to the 1990s when Samuel, then head of Opera Australia, took over the Victoria State Opera, where Pratt’s wife, Jeanne, was a board member.

The two are also high-profile identities in Australian Rules football, with Samuel a former AFL commissioner and Pratt a former player and president of Melbourne’s Carlton Football Club. In the Jewish community, they mix in the same circles but avoid personal contact.

Two weeks ago a group of senior Jewish officials, writing in their private capacities, signed a joint letter in the Australian Jewish News showing their “deep appreciation” for Pratt’s philanthropy, which is estimated at  more than $12 million a year, largely to Australian and Israeli causes.


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