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Rabbi Holtzberg’s father accuses Chabad of fraud,embezzlement

The group went to court last month opposing the renovation work that had been started by representatives of the Holtzbergs.

Written by Mustafa Plumber | Mumbai |
November 23, 2010 12:23:09 pm

Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg,father of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg who was killed in the attack on Chabad House during 26/11,has accused the ultra-orthodox Jewish group his son worked for of “large scale manipulation and falsification of records… to grab” the Nariman House property as well as “pocketing millions of dollars” raised to renovate the badly-damaged building in South Mumbai.

In an affidavit filed last week in Bombay City Civil Court,Israeli national Eliran Russo,who is representing Holtzberg senior as his constituted attorney,said that the New York-headquartered Chabad Lubavitch movement had raised crores of rupees to repair the building in Colaba,made some payments,pocketed huge sums and was not ready to provide any accounts.

As first reported by The Indian Express last week,Nariman House,which became one of the symbols of the global span of the 26/11 attacks,has ended up as the subject of a bitter property dispute between warring factions of the Jewish group,days before the second anniversary of the terrorist outrage. The group went to court last month opposing the renovation work that had been started by representatives of the Holtzbergs,saying the work was not authorized and was illegal. The suit named Russo as the main defendant.

Representatives of the Holtzbergs countered the Chabad claim with allegations of their own,causing the city court to place the five-storey building in the possession of a Receiver of the Bombay High Court. The dispute also resulted in authorities disconnecting power and water supply to the building.

At the heart of the dispute is the ‘Chabad of India Trust’ set up by Gavriel and his wife Rivka in 2005,which owns the Nariman House building. After 26/11,Chabad headquarters named Rabbi Yosef C Kantor as its official responsible for the rebuilding effort,and began raising funds around the world. Chabad also reconstituted the Chabad of India Trust and appointed Kantor as a trustee.

But in his affidavit,Russo has alleged that Kantor manipulated records to claim trusteeship. He has also challenged the legality of the reconstitution of the Chabad of India Trust with the Charity Commissioner. Other representatives of Gavriel and Rivka’s families have said their only objective is to see the property rebuilt and functioning once again as a Jewish outreach centre.

Terming Kantor’s claim that he is a trustee as “nothing but the result of manipulation,cheating and fraud”,the affidavit says Gavriel Holtzberg,or his heir,was the sole lifelong trustee who had the authority to appoint trustees. As baby Moshe’s natural guardian,Nachman Holtzberg is now the only authorised trustee to appoint trustees,it says.

“I say that the plaintiffs made some payment to various authorities out of millions of the rupees which they received only to show that they are spending some on the trust while pocketed millions of dollars and not ready to give any accounts (sic),” the affidavit says. It adds that crores of rupees were raised in the name of the Chabad Trust and for Baby Moshe,but no repairs were initiated for two nearly years.

Chabad spokesperson Motti Seligson confirmed that Rabbi Kantor is a representative of the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters,and said he was a trustee of Chabad of India Trust from its inception.

Regarding funds,the spokesman said,“A large sum has been placed in a trust from which funds are sent monthly to the guardians of baby Moshe,to ensure that all his needs are met… A significant amount has been spent on the clean up and maintenance of Nariman House over the last two years to ensure the building’s safety,while working on the painstaking tasks of planning and preparing for the rebuilding. The early foundational steps for building were also completed.”

While Kantor’s petition said Russo had offered to help the trust in restoring electricity and water supply to the building and had accordingly been authorised in November 2009 by the trust to carry out repairs for which $3,600 was paid to him,Russo’s response says no payment was made by Chabad,and that Nachman Holtzberg is funding the restoration of his son’s legacy with his own money.

Battlelines have been drawn since October 19,when a verbal altercation occurred at Nariman House. Kantor’s petition says another rabbi,Chauim Eliezer Ashkenazi,was appointed as the authorised person to supervise the repairs when it came to their notice that electricity and water bills had not been paid. When local guards refused to let Ashkenazi enter,a local Shiv Sena leader got involved,and finally the Colaba police were called in. Kantor filed the civil suit subsequently.

While a cloud of doubt has now descended over the proposed reopening of Nariman House on the second anniversary of the attacks,Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg is expected in Mumbai on Tuesday,said sources,adding that a small ceremony will take place on November 26 nonetheless.

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