Toronto Sun | Oct. 05, 2003 | Peter Worthington

Nazi hunter quits in disgrace

Disbarred in Washington, U.S. lawyer once advised Canada's Justice Department

In 1997, our federal Justice Department hired Neal Sher, former head of the U.S. Justice Department's Nazi-hunting agency, to help root out war criminals and deport those accused of working for the Nazis in World War II.

By that time, our courts had thrown out most war crimes cases, so the government, led by then-immigration minister Elinor Caplan, apparently zeroed in on deporting people (mostly old Ukrainians, as it turned out) who as teenagers had been forced to work for the Nazis, and after the war came to Canada.

It is alleged that many, like Toronto's Wasyl Odynsky, did not tell the RCMP they'd been forced to serve in Nazi auxiliaries.

Mr. Justice Andrew MacKay, who went to Ukraine to investigate the Odynsky case, found nothing to suggest he had done anything resembling a crime against humanity.

Because Justice MacKay felt it was "probable" that Odynsky had not told of his background, Caplan - and now her successor, Denis Coderre - want Odynsky deported without the basic human right of an appeal.

Many MPs and others favour an appeal process but this is denied in present legislation.

While all this was going on, Sher was hired as a consultant by then-justice minister Anne McLellan to help the war crimes unit with prosecutions and deportations. McLellan praised Sher as a "talented and highly competent adviser."

Elinor Caplan echoed the praise.

Irving Abella, chair of the war crimes committee for the Canadian Jewish Congress, was quoted as saying: "They could not have made a better choice."

At the time, I scolded that Sher was an appalling and unnecessary choice. I (and others) felt he was biased, unfair and had ill-served "justice" in the U.S., where he headed the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) from 1983 to 1994.

In 1998, an American court concluded the OSI - both before and during Sher's watch - had all but fabricated the case against retired Cleveland auto worker Ivan Demjanjuk, insisting he was "Ivan the Terrible," a sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp.

While not holding Sher personally responsible for wrongdoing, the Ohio court, in restoring Demjanjuk's citizenship at the time, ruled the OSI had withheld key evidence, acted with "reckless disregard for their duty to the court" and perpetrated "further fraud upon the court that ... infects the whole justice system." The judge's findings supported an earlier appeals court decision that had reached similar conclusions.

Conviction overturned

Prior to this ruling, Demjanjuk had been extradited to Israel, where he had been sentenced to death.

Through the tireless efforts of Demjanjuk's son-in-law, Ed Nishnic, evidence was gathered that persuaded the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn that conviction in 1993.

Ironically, Demjanjuk, who returned to America following the decision of Israel's Supreme Court, was again stripped of his citizenship last year, after a judge concluded there was compelling evidence he was a Nazi death camp guard.

Demjanjuk, who has been locked in a 25-year battle with the U.S. Justice Department, is appealing that ruling.

By the time Canada hired Sher, he'd been replaced as head of the OSI.

Sher went on to become executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and later, chief of staff of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC), formed to ensure Holocaust victims collected on insurance policies.

The Baltimore Sun (as well as The Los Angeles Times, Forward magazine and others) have reported that Sher resigned after being accused of misappropriating over $136,000 in fraudulent travel expenses.

The ICHEIC raised some $40 million - much of which went for administration costs while only $18 million to survivors. (One report claimed that of $33 million raised, $30 million went for administration.)

On Aug. 28, Sher was disbarred in Washington.

Sher did not defend himself and filed "a motion to accept consent to disbarment." He said he agreed to this because the cost of fighting disbarment "would be absolutely prohibitive." Sher made full restitution of the $136,000. The chairman of ICHEIC, former U.S. secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger, called the case a "tragedy." Because Sher voluntarily accepted disbarment, details remain closed.

In the disbarment papers, Sher agrees his consent "is freely and voluntarily rendered," that he knows there is "currently pending an investigation into ... allegations of misconduct," that the "allegations of misconduct ... are true," that if disciplinary proceedings were instigated, he "could not successfully defend against them."

$200 an hour

Some think Sher got off lightly, others think disbarment is too severe. He cannot apply for reinstatement for at least five years. This, then, is the guy Canada once thought a perfect choice to help get rid of aging Ukrainians who are guilty of nothing except being Ukrainians forced, or coerced, as youths into working for the Nazis. As a consultant, Canada paid Sher $200 an hour.

When asked about Sher, the Justice Department would only say he is no longer employed there.

In a Jan. 22, 1998, column I wondered, 'Why do we need an American to help investigate war crimes?

The shame of Neal Sher doesn't help Wasyl Odynsky and others, but it should embarrass Canada for hiring the wrong man.

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