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Government presents draft law on dormant Swiss bank accounts

Draft banking legislation aims to clarify the issue of dormant bank accounts, in the wake of the Holocaust era claims Keystone

The government is drawing the lessons from the controversy surrounding dormant Swiss bank accounts from the Holocaust era. It has put forward a draft law regulating how financial institutions handle accounts whose owners can no longer be traced.

The cabinet on Wednesday presented the draft text and is asking for feedback from all parties concerned by the end of September. The new legislation will then be presented to parliament for approval.

The key government proposals:
– financial institutions will be obliged to actively seek the owner of an account if they have not heard from him or her for eight years.
– if the search is unsuccessful, the institutions must inform a central body, to be set up at the finance ministry, within two years.
– after 50 years, the money in the dormant accounts becomes the property of the federal authorities, and the account owner or heir loses all claims to the assets.

The plans also foresee penalties for institutions which do not fulfil their obligation to report dormant accounts. It would also apply to assets placed in banks and insurance companies before the law comes into force and which have been dormant for years or even decades.

However, the government proposals also include transitional measures to avoid a clash between new obligations for financial institutions and efforts already underway to find the rightful owners of accounts from the Holocaust era.

A commission presided by the United States banker, Paul Volcker, completed a three-year audit of Nazi-era accounts in Switzerland last year, but the search for their owners is still underway.

In a statement accompanying the draft law, the government said the debate about Switzerland’s history showed “how difficult and expensive it is to return funds to their rightful owners after they have remained unclaimed for years”.

The Volcker Commission’s audit – the most extensive of its kind in the world – cost a total of about SFr800 million.

Swiss banks introduced their own guidelines on handling dormant accounts on July 1. They include informing customers of the problems and consequences of dormancy, and the earmarking and centrally recording of dormant accounts by the bank.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR