Deadline passes for joining Holocaust settlement

Workers at a Swiss-owned factory in Germany attending a meeting in 1941 Keystone

The deadline has come and gone for Swiss companies that used slave labour during the Nazi era to join a $1.25 billion (SFr2 billion) restitution settlement with claimants of dormant accounts.

This content was published on August 25, 2000 - 22:07

Swiss companies and banks had until Friday to join up. Those that did, will be protected from any future legal action but will, in turn, be obliged to publish bank records and provide United States court officials with historical information needed to process claims.

The 1998 settlement between Swiss banking giants, UBS and Credit Suisse, and Jewish groups was formally approved last month by US district court judge, Edward Korman, paving the way for a distribution plan to be drawn up by September 11.

About 100 Swiss firms used more than 11,000 forced labourers in Nazi-controlled plants, mainly in small south German towns close to the Swiss border, according to media reports.

Companies such as engineering group Georg Fischer, algroup (Alusuisse Lonza), Nestle's Maggi and ABB were expected to join either the Swiss bank settlement or the $4.8 billion German slave labour fund by Friday's deadline set by Judge Korman last month.

Billed as an all-Switzerland accord, it covers liabilities against the two big banks as well as the Swiss National Bank, other smaller Swiss banks, some tiers of government and Swiss companies over their subsidiaries' use of slave or forced labour in Nazi Germany.

Thomas Sutter, a Swiss Bankers Association spokesman, said: "We informed the banks about their position. The mood was generally positive."

Jacques Rossier, from Geneva private bank Darrier Hentsch, said: "I would recommend that all private banks join the settlement."

"We expect to join the agreement, although we take the final decision in the next weeks," said Sandra Mäusli, a spokeswoman for Switzerland's largest regional bank, Zürcher Kantonalbank.

The accord also covers claims against Swiss insurers for failing to honour life insurance policies. Swiss insurance companies, Baloise, Swiss Re, Swiss Life and Helvetia Patria, recently contributed a further $50 million to cover claims against them.

Payments to claimants are not expected to start until the end of the year. Former slave labourers, war refugees turned away from Swiss borders, Gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses could also benefit.

by Fiona Fleck

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