World Jewish Congress calls for stopping Social Security payments to Nazi war crimes suspects

An influential Jewish advocacy group said Tuesday it no longer supports allowing suspected Nazi war criminals to receive Social Security benefits.

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World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement to The Associated Press that U.S. law should be changed to stop the payments.

Lauder's statement followed an AP investigation that found dozens of Nazi suspects collected millions of dollars in benefits after being expelled from the United States.

Since 1979, at least 38 of 66 suspects kept their Social Security benefits. Of the 66 suspects, at least four are alive, living in Europe on U.S. Social Security. The AP also reported that the payments gave the U.S. Justice Department leverage to persuade Nazi suspects to sign voluntary departure agreements.

The payments flowed through a legal loophole that the World Jewish Congress lobbied to keep open during the 1990s. The thinking at the time was that Nazi suspects would agree to depart the U.S. voluntarily if they knew their Social Security benefits would continue. The expectation, Lauder said, was that suspects would be held accountable for their alleged crimes in the countries they returned to. Yet only 10 suspects were ever prosecuted after being expelled.

The Justice Department denied using Social Security benefits as a tool for removing Nazi suspects.

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The time has come to end the payments. Lauder said.

"There cannot and there should not be such a thing as legal closure when it comes to genocide, and we support the U.S. authorities in their efforts to track down all suspected Nazi war criminals, no matter what their age is today, and to bring them to justice," Lauder said.

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Herschaft reported from New York.