Five years after Swiss banks set up a $1.25 billion (SFr1.7 billion) fund for Jewish victims of the Nazis, only a third of the money has been distributed.This content was published on August 12, 2003 - 08:57
Jewish organisations representing claimants say they want a review of the restitution process in a bid to speed up payouts.
The global accord between Jewish plaintiff groups and Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS was signed on August 12, 1998.
Under the agreement, the banks placed $1.25 billion into a fund in exchange for the dropping of all class action litigation against them in the United States.
Some $800 million of the fund is intended for the owners of dormant Holocaust-era accounts and their heirs.
The remaining $425 million is designated for slave labourers, refugees turned away at the Swiss border when trying to escape Nazi Germany, and for Holocaust survivors now living in poverty.
But the process of getting the money to the victims has been slow. The distribution plan, for example, was only introduced in November 2000.
By July this year, only $125.9 million had been paid out to 999 claimants, according to the Zurich-based Claims Resolution Tribunal (CRT). This is out of a total of 33,000 claims.
Jewish organisations involved in the process plan to meet within the next few weeks to discuss what to do next.
Five years ago when the fund was drawn up, speedy restitution was seen as a prime concern due to the advanced age of many Holocaust survivors.
In June last year, Paul Volcker, one of the heads of the CRT, said the system of handing out the money needed to be simplified. The claims process, he added, was too cumbersome.
Meanwhile, lawyers responsible for overseeing the payments say the sum of $800 million for dormant account claimants is too high. They say a total amount of between $300 and $400 million would suffice.
This has led to disagreements over how the remainder of the $800 million should be spent. Those close to Israël Singer, the former secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, would like to see the funds spent on Jewish cultural projects.
This is a view endorsed by the Lucerne historian Thomas Maissen who says there are not enough legitimate claimants to account for the money.
But numerous small organisations representing Holocaust victims insist the money should go directly to either the survivors or those eligible for inheritance.
Burt Neuborne, the senior lawyer representing claimants, and Judah Gribetz, the lawyer responsible for overseeing how the money is spent, are due to announce shortly the date for a meeting of interested parties.
A five-year probe into Switzerland’s wartime past, whose findings were published last year, uncovered major failings in Switzerland’s policy during the Nazi era.
The Independent Commission of Experts, headed by Jean-François Bergier, highlighted three particular areas: treatment of refugees, cooperation with the Nazi regime and restitution.
According to the Commission, 24,000 refugees - mainly Jews - were turned away by border guards during the Second World War.
The ICE also found that business and financial institutions did little to help victims of the Nazis regain possession of their assets.
An investigation by the CRT’s Paul Volcker in 1999 found more than 50,000 dormant accounts possibly belonging to Holocaust victims in Swiss banks.
swissinfo with agencies
The Claims Resolution Tribunal is responsible for processing claims.
It must decide whether a claimant has "plausibly demonstrated that a policyholder, beneficiary, or insured person was a victim or target of Nazi persecution".
The claimant must also show that they are the rightful beneficiary.
On August 12, 1998, Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse agreed to create a fund of $1.25 billion for Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The distribution plan for the funds was only introduced in November 2000.
Only $125.9 million of the $800 million set aside in the fund for owners of dormant Swiss bank accounts and their heirs has been handed out so far.
Lawyers representing claimants and those overseeing the payouts are due to meet to thrash out ways of speeding up the process.
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