Ex-chief of Jewish Agency is guilty of credit card fraud

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JERUSALEM — Former Jewish Agency chairman Simcha Dinitz has been convicted of committing fraud and abusing the public trust for purchasing personal items at the agency's expense.

The Jerusalem District Court found Dinitz guilty Monday of charging $6,700 worth of personal merchandise on his own charge card at Syms, a New York clothing store, and then allowing the agency to pay for it.

But the court cleared Dinitz of any wrongdoing related to personal charges he made on his agency-issued American Express card.

Although the court found that Dinitz did charge $15,400 worth of personal items with the card, it accepted his claim that agency bookkeepers should have deducted these fees from his paycheck.

The agency is the principal Israeli recipient of funds raised by diaspora local federations and the United Jewish Appeal and is a symbol of the Israeli-diaspora partnership.

A former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Dinitz assumed his agency post in December 1987.

He was forced to take a leave of absence from the agency in February 1994 amid allegations that he had charged thousands of dollars of personal expenses to agency charge cards.

He resigned in January 1995.

When his trial opened in October 1994, Dinitz pleaded innocent to all the charges against him.

Although Dinitz called his actions an oversight, Judge Shalom Brenner described them as "criminal."

In a 152-page decision, Brenner wrote: "The behavior of the accused in the Syms case was shown to be an extreme case of closing one's eyes that constitutes criminal action."

Upon leaving the courtroom, Dinitz declined to comment, saying only that he needed time to study the decision.

He will be sentenced next month.

During a news briefing Tuesday, current agency chairman Avraham Burg termed Dinitz's conviction "a very sad moment both on an individual and organizational level."

Burg promised "to read every word, every line, every page [of the District Court ruling] and to implement whatever needs to be implemented."

Burg added that the agency had already "reached conclusions necessitated by this case and implemented new procedures and regulations accordingly."

To prevent the misuse of funds, Burg said, the agency has canceled all organizational charge cards as well as individual "frequent flier" benefits.

The agency, he said, has also created "a strict monitoring system" for travel and expenditures by employees and emissaries, including members of the agency's board and its senior staff.

The trial of former Jewish Agency treasurer Meir Sheetrit, a Likud Knesset member who is charged with using agency funds for personal expenses, began Monday, after the close of the Dinitz case.