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Wiesel cannot forgive Madoff

Elie Wiesel's foundation had most of its money invested with Bernard Madoff's firm. Elie Wiesel's foundation had most of its money invested with Bernard Madoff's firm. (Bill Davila/Startraks Photo via AP)
Reuters / February 27, 2009
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NEW YORK - Calling accused swindler Bernard Madoff a "crook, a thief, a scoundrel," Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said yesterday he could never forgive the man he says stole all of his foundation's money.

Wiesel said he twice met Madoff, a Wall Street trader who authorities say preyed on the Jewish elite of North America and Europe in what grew to be an estimated $50 billion fraud. They discussed ethics and education, not finances.

"Could I forgive him? No," Wiesel said during a discussion, "Madoff and the Meltdown," hosted by Conde Nast Portfolio magazine. "First of all, it would mean he would come on his knees and ask for forgiveness. He wouldn't do that."

He said the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity had $15.2 million under management with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. Wiesel said he and his wife lost personal investments.

Madoff, 70, is under house arrest in his luxury Manhattan apartment after being arrested and charged with securities fraud in December.

Asked about so-called affinity frauds and whether Madoff's being Jewish had any relevance, Wiesel said Madoff "is simply a crook, a thief, a scoundrel. It is not the Jewishness in him, it is the inhumanity in this man.

"What he has done to people breaks my heart."

Charitable foundations, universities, hospitals, and thousands of individual investors have said they were victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme, one in which early investors are paid off with the money of new clients.

Wiesel, who survived Nazi Germany's concentration camps in World War II and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, said he was introduced to Madoff through a friend. He said the unidentified friend lost $50 million in the purported fraud.

The 80-year-old Wiesel, was on a panel with former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Harvey Pitt, who addressed some of the criticism of the SEC for not catching the purported fraud, saying the regulator "got the wrong conclusion. At a minimum it looks like human failure."

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