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Banks face new claims over apartheid dealings

Lawyer Michael Hausfeld is bringing the suit on behalf of apartheid victims

(Keystone)

Swiss banks are among 20 companies being sued for their dealings with South Africa's former apartheid regime.

United States lawyer Michael Hausfeld has filed a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of victims of apartheid.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensation from the firms, which are accused of helping to prop up South Africa's former regime.

Hausfeld filed the suit in New York on behalf of more than 20 apartheid victims and the self-help organisation, Khulumani, which represents more than 30,000 victims.

The class action suit alleges that the firms - including Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse - bear direct responsibility for some of the personal injury caused during the apartheid era through their dealings with the South African government of the time.

"The corporations aided and abetted a crime against humanity whose persistent social damage requires urgent repair," said Jubilee South Africa, the organisation representing the victims, in a statement.

"They made massive profits while the suffering of the victims of apartheid intensified [and] have consistently ignored our attempts to engage in discussion about their role in... compensating specific individuals for the damage that the corporations made possible."

Defied sanctions

The suit claims that the companies defied United Nations sanctions imposed in 1985 by continuing to lend money to South Africa.

UBS told swissinfo that its investments in South Africa had been "in line with Switzerland's official policy...".

"Therefore we don't see a connection between our activities in South Africa and the suffering of South African citizens under apartheid, and therefore we reject any unjustified claims," said spokeswoman, Monika Dunant.

Compensation

Hausfeld is representing Jubilee 2000, a coalition of church groups and unions, which is seeking compensation for those who suffered under apartheid including parents of children killed in the Soweto uprising.

Three months ago the South African umbrella organisation parted company with another US lawyer, Ed Fagan, who is best known in Switzerland for his role in the Holocaust dormant accounts affair.

Jubilee 2000 said at the time that it disapproved of the methods used by Fagan.

In 1988 Fagan was instrumental in forcing the Swiss banks into making a $1.25 billion settlement for Holocaust victims and their dependents.

Fagan filed his first multi-billion class action suit on behalf of apartheid victims in June, and announced that further suits would follow.

Apart from the Swiss banks, the class action targets other foreign banks, oil companies, technology concerns and armaments companies. The German car manufacturer Daimler Chrysler was also expected to be named in the newest lawsuit.

swissinfo

In brief:

Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse are among 20 companies targeted by a new class action suit on behalf of victims of apartheid.

The lawsuit - seeking compensation for more than 30,000 victims - was filed in New York by US lawyer Michael Hausfeld.

Hausfeld represents the South African coalition Jubilee 2000.

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