Rabbi returns more than £2.5 million to charities

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Rabbi returns more than £2.5 million to charities

Two Orthodox charities receive funds after National Crime Agency investigation into Rabbi Barry Marcus

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Rabbi Barry Marcus
Rabbi Barry Marcus

A retired rabbi has said he “regrets the inconvenience caused” to two charities after he agreed to return £2.35 million to them following a National Crime Agency inquiry.

Details of a case involving Rabbi Barry Marcus, the South African-born former rabbi of London’s Central Synagogue, emerged this week after a January appearance at Westminster Magistrates in which Rabbi Marcus said he would return money, which had been in his personal accounts, to two charities: Dalaid, which aims to relieve poverty and advance Jewish education, and the Schwarzschild Foundation, which offers education and relief from poverty for Orthodox Jewish women and girls.

Rabbi Marcus is now 74 and retired from Central Synagogue in 2018. His lawyer, David Sonn, says he has “suffered from serious ill-health in the last three years”.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) began its investigation into funds earmarked for the two charities in October 2022, when it became aware that the rabbi, who received an MBE in 2015 for his work in Holocaust education, had received £1 million between January and September of that year, into his personal accounts.

He could not provide “a legitimate explanation”, said the NCA, for the money being in his UK and overseas bank accounts. Between November 2022 and March 2023, the NCA successfully applied for four freezing orders on the rabbi’s accounts, for money totalling £1,183,072.

Reports say that the rabbi had told NCA investigators that he had distributed some of the money in line with the charities’ aims, but could not provide satisfactory evidence of such distribution. A parallel investigation into the money is being carried out by the Charities Commission.

His lawyer David Sonn said: “Rabbi Marcus co-operated with the NCA’s civil enquiry from the outset. All charitable monies entrusted to Rabbi Marcus have either been distributed as intended or returned to the charities from where they originated. The account freezing order proceedings have been settled and the relevant UK bank accounts, accordingly unfrozen.

“Rabbi Marcus is cooperating with the Charity Commission. Neither charity is involved in the Holocaust educational work, for which Rabbi Marcus was awarded an MBE. Rabbi Marcus continues to lead visits to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, when his health permits.”

Asked why there had been civil, rather than criminal proceedings in the matter, a spokesperson for the NCA told Jewish News: “Civil recovery investigations are an efficient way to reclaim funds that have been acquired through unlawful conduct, and are not dependent on a criminal conviction.

“The NCA’s investigation has ensured that a substantial sum, initially intended for charitable use, could be frozen quickly and returned directly to the organisations it was intended for.

“The NCA must exercise its functions under POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act 2002) in a way best calculated to contribute to the reduction of crime. Whilst in general, the reduction of crime is best secured through criminal investigations and proceedings, civil powers under Part Five of POCA also make an important contribution to the reduction of crime”.

Rabbi Marcus is understood to be living outside the UK and returned to London for his appearance at Westminster Magistrates in January. He has not undertaken any rabbinical functions for the United Synagogue since his retirement from Central Synagogue in 2018.

Though he led a number of “Lessons from Auschwitz” tours for the Holocaust Educational Trust, he was not employed by HET and it is understood that he is unlikely to work with the charity in the future.

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