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Central bank denies liability for Yugoslav assets looted by Nazis

A Holocaust memorial in San Franscisco, California, where the lawsuit was filed

(Keystone)

The Swiss National Bank says it cannot be held liable for assets looted by the Nazis in Croatia and exchanged for hard currency in Switzerland. The statement on Wednesday comes after a class action lawsuit was filed against the bank in the United States.

The bank's statement comes a day after lawyers in California told swissinfo they had filed a lawsuit on behalf of non-Jewish victims of the Nazis in the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

The bank said it had yet to receive notification of the lawsuit, but that it was in any case not liable for assets stolen by the Nazis in Croatia and exchanged for hard currency in Switzerland.

Werner Abegg, spokesman for the Swiss National Bank, told swissinfo that all assets held by the bank were returned to Yugoslavia after the war.

"At the end of the Second World War all the assets of the former Croatian National Bank that remained at the Swiss National Bank were transmitted to the legal successor of the Croatian bank, namely the central bank of Yugoslavia."

He added that it "remains to be seen whether a public institution in Switzerland can be involved in a class action lawsuit in the US".

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, is seeking compensation of SFr200 million ($120 million) for what it claims were wartime transactions worth SFr1.7 billion, carried out between the Swiss and German central banks.

The lawyers acting on behalf of the plaintiffs, Thomas Easton and Jonathan Levy, claim these people were unjustly excluded from the original Swiss Banks' settlement worth $1.25 billion, which was agreed in 1998 with Jewish groups. Under the terms of the agreement, the National Bank was exempted from claims.

Levy told swissinfo: "This all should have been settled as part of the main lawsuit, but because of political manipulation by the Jewish organisations - non-Jews were cut out of the class action."

The plaintiffs allege that the Swiss National Bank and other Swiss banks allowed the Nazis to exchange looted assets from non-Jews - including gold and silver collected from forced labourers, occupied territories and concentration camps - for hard currency.

They say the Swiss ultimately prolonged the war by providing much-needed foreign currency for the Nazis.

In August, the two lawyers filed a similar lawsuit implicating the Swiss National Bank and the Vatican Bank in illicit dealings with Croatian Nazi collaborators.

swissinfo

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