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Holocaust Restitution - A Costly Endeavor
By MATI WAGNER
In the best case scenario, when the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) finishes its work, it will have spent one dollar on administrative costs for every two dollars it paid to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.
According to Pat Bowditch, ICHEIC's chief financial officer, the ICHEIC's total operating budget since its inception in December 1998 is $95.8 million.
A large hunk of that total was spent during ICHEIC's first years, when it set up the administrative infrastructure for locating, collecting, processing and paying Holocaust-era insurance policies to survivors and their families.
So far, a total of $103m. has been offered to claimants.
By the end of 2005, when ICHEIC is slated for dismantling, total offers to claimants could reach as much as $200m., Bowditch told The Jerusalem Post.
"In the last few months there has been a significant rise in the number of claims." She admitted that by the end of 2005 operating costs would probably exceed the $95.8m. budget, but would grow at a slower pace than the rise in payments to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.
Assuming total ICHEIC administrative costs will not exceed $100m. and assuming ICHEIC reaches its $200m. goal, the commission will have spent one dollar for every two dollars it paid out.
Stuart Eizenstat, who was Special Representative of the President on Holocaust Era Issues in the last six years of the Clinton administration, says ICHEIC will have spent too much.
"I've dealt with arrangements in a wide range of areas including slave labor, insurance, real estate and objects of art, and those figures sound extraordinarily high", Eizenstat told the Post.
Eizenstat said that even considering the lack of cooperation of the insurance companies and the added costs that resulted, ICHEIC's costs were "way too high".
ICHEIC is aware of its high operating costs. These costs are one of the reasons ICHEIC's Chairman, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, and others at ICHEIC, are pushing to dismantle ICHEIC by the end of 2005.
ICHEIC has already stopped accepting new claims. After extending the deadline several times, it set March 31, 2004 as the cutoff date for the acceptance of new claims.
Claims that arrive after this date will be transferred directly to the European insurance companies for processing.
However, Eizenstat said European insurance companies could not be trusted to pay insurance policies.
"For over fifty years those insurance companies have tried to avoid paying." He said the insurance companies would take advantage of the fact that most claimants have little or no physical proof that they or their relatives ever had an insurance policy.
He called on ICHEIC Wednesday to extend its deadline another six months.
Eizenstat, whose last position in the US government was as Deputy Secretary of Treasury, said a closure date must be set for ICHEIC so that the remaining funds could be put to use for the benefit of Holocaust survivors.
"But since it took such a long time to get the names of policy owners out of the insurance companies another extension should be given." Eizenstat, who is in Israel to promote the Hebrew translation of his book "Imperfect Justice", which tells the story of how the US government obtained restitution payments for Holocaust survivors of $8 billion, said one final advertising campaign should be made to round up new claims before ICHEIC closes its doors for good.
Bowditch estimated that ICHEIC presently holds about $350m. Even if ICHEIC allocates another $100m. before it closes, about $250m. would remain.
The money left over after all pending claims are processed will be used first and foremost for welfare and medical aid to survivors. If additional funds remain they will be donated to institutions dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust.
"Time is running out for Holocaust survivors so ICHEIC should work toward closure. But a final effort should be made to pay all outstanding claims", said Eizenstat.
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite? ... 0751971884
OR WE DON'T"
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