Lawyer Jailed for Bilking Clients of German Pensions

At 8:30 A.M. yesterday, room 606 at the Tel Aviv District Court was packed. Dozens of people came to hear the sentence of Israel Perry, a lawyer convicted of stealing 320 million marks (about NIS 870 million) from clients - including Holocaust survivors - trying to get pension payments from Germany.

Speaking slowly and quietly, Judge Zecharia Caspi sentenced Perry to 12 years in jail and a suspended sentence of five and a half years. Perry was personally fined NIS 21.75 million and his company was fined another NIS 2.6 million. And, ruled Caspi, he must also pay NIS 150,000 in compensation to the 10 plaintiffs.

Perry appeared to be a respectable lawyer with his clients' interests at heart, said Caspi, but he actually "lied and deceived, distorted and presented false fronts."

Perry's attorney, Jacob Weinroth, said he planned to appeal.

"Without a doubt, I made mistakes along the way," Perry said. "I didn't always operate with total transparency, but I never believed that the way I behaved constitutes a criminal offense."

After the sentence was read out, Devorah Reichert, one of Perry's former clients and an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor, shouted at Weinroth for representing Perry instead of those he bilked.

"You should have represented us, not Perry - us!" Reichert said. "We're the ones without the money to hire lawyers at your level. He stole money from us, caused us emotional damage, on the backs of the elderly. He made me bankrupt. Mr. Weinroth, I am a Holocaust survivor. I am from Auschwitz, with a number on my arm, from the Warsaw Ghetto, from the death march. Why do I deserve something like this?"

Perry discovered in 1983 that Israel and West Germany had signed a treaty granting German government insurance to anyone who was an Israeli citizen living within the Green Line from 1953, as long as they invested 100,000 Deutsche marks. Perry started a company to represent eligible citizens and organized loans for those who needed them. His clients paid him the insurance premiums as well as a fee for dealing with the German authorities.

The court found that Perry pretended he had no interest in the companies providing the loans and insurance, even though at a certain point they were all under his control. In addition, the companies did not actually purchase insurance as he promised.

Caspi noted that accusations that Perry exploited Holocaust survivors were not entirely accurate, saying: "Holocaust survivors are indeed among the organization's clients, but their basic rights to a German pension do not stem from their being such."

Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry decided yesterday that the NIS 21.75 million fine will go into the state coffers.

If the court had wanted the fine to go to Perry's victims, treasury officials said yesterday, it would have said so explicitly.

Moti Bassok contributed to this report.