(September 09, 2020): VILNIUS - Turto Bankas, the property banking arm of the Lithuanian government recently came under fire for its involvement in the construction of a conference center on a Jewish cemetery. The international Jewish community has acted with shock horror and anger, after hearing confirmation of the bank’s controversial initiative to develop the conference center, together with the Vilnius City Council.
The Shnipeshok property in which between 50,000 and 80,000 Jews are buried and in which the Vilna Gaon was initially interred, goes back more than 500 years. “Use of the grounds for any purpose other than as a cemetery, is a violation of Jewish law,” says Rabbi David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel. U.S. Senators, Congressmen, experts in Jewish law, including the world renowned authority on Jewish law, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, have condemned the development.
An Israeli court decision has already prohibited development of the conference center on the cemetery in Vilnius. The court asserted jurisdiction in the matter, based on the fact that a large number of Jews are buried on the property and consequently ruled that the potential desecration constitutes a material interest. The court ruling prohibits the participation of all parties including Jewish members, in the development. Lithuanian law requires that the developers must respect and conform with Jewish heritage considerations. Legally, this would mean that the feasibility of the entire project is in question.
Karl Weber, a private banker from Berlin, who is taking an unplanned sabbatical due to the coronavirus pandemic, had his own thoughts on the fiasco. “The conference center project in Vilnius has been a PR nightmare for Turto Bankas. They’ve probably done everything which a financial institution shouldn’t do,” said Mr. Weber.
In European financial circles, reports have also surfaced that Turto Bankas has been blacklisted and that financial institutions are deliberately redirecting deal flow away from the Lithuanian bank. This is a consequence of its business dealings which are considered unkosher.
A European financial analyst who did not want to be named, had his own thoughts on the matter. “First it’s business which is leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Who know’s what’s next? Today, money laundering is a lucrative income generator in Europe. I’d be very surprised if regulators aren’t taking a closer look at the bank’s transactions. The last thing we want is for Lithuania to become the hub of the underworld.”
Recently a sting operation in Ireland, led to the arrest of a drug cartel that was operating between Lithuania and Ireland.
A London based manager of a property hedge fund said that he had not heard any reports that the bank had been blacklisted. However, the investment manager did concede that Lithuania was generally not on his radar screen.
A video produced and created by Blue Note Advocacy, underscores the embittered response by world Jewry to the cemetery desecration: https://youtu.be/r6KP2slz5es
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