Swiss banks to give final go-ahead to Holocaust settlement
Switzerland's two main banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, are expected formally to approve amendments on Friday to the $1.25 billion (SFr2 billion) restitution settlement agreed with claimants of dormant accounts from the Holocaust era.
Their approval clears the final hurdle on the Swiss side to the settlement and paves the way for distribution of money to tens of thousands of elderly Holocaust survivors and their heirs, although payments are still not expected before the end of the year.
The United States District Court Judge, Edward Korman, who approved the 1998 landmark settlement last week, gave the banks seven days to agree to the amendments, including provisions on art looted by the Nazis, insurance companies and access to bank records.
Korman also appointed a special court official to draw up a distribution plan within 30 days. This will need approval from the parties concerned, such as Jewish groups, gypsies, homosexuals and others persecuted by the Nazis before payments are made.
"This is the end of the line for us. It is no longer in our hands," said Ulrich Pfister, spokesman for Credit Suisse. "We are very pleased that the settlement is going to be implemented and distribution will finally go ahead".
Pfister said the deal would also include Swiss insurers, Baloise, Swiss Re, Swiss Life and Helvetia Patria, which recently pledged an additional SFr80 million ($50 million) to the global settlement.
He also said the banks would publish later this year about 26,000 more names of account holders who may have been Holocaust victims, to try to help track down survivors or victims' heirs in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
Two years ago, when UBS and Credit Suisse signed the landmark settlement, they also agreed to cover claims - not only over lost bank assets - but also against Swiss companies with German subsidiaries which used slave or forced labour during World War Two.
Judge Korman gave all such Swiss companies until August 25 to cooperate by providing the names of slave and forced labourers they employed, so that US court officials could resolve any claims against them covered by the bank settlement.
He said that once the firms cooperate, they would be exempted from any future legal action.
The World Jewish Congress has already threatened to file a new class-action suit against them if they fail to do so.
The Swiss companies in question have not been named, but are believed to include those in the metals, armaments and food industries.
The main Swiss employers' organisation, the Swiss Trade and Industry Association, advised them to own up to their past, saying: "Firms that come forward risk nothing".
The food multinational, Nestlé, which had an affiliate in Germany at the relevant time, has declared itself ready to cooperate. The aluminium concern, Algroup, and the engineering company, Georg Fischer, also said they would cooperate by handing their records to the Bergier commission, a panel of independent historians investigating Switzerland's role during World War Two.
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