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Distribution plan to be unveiled for Holocaust survivors

Holocaust distribution plan graphic: Sept 2000 swissinfo.ch

A long awaited distribution plan for Holocaust victims and their heirs was due to be revealed on Monday, following approval of the final settlement reached between Swiss banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, and Jewish organisations in July.

This content was published on September 11, 2000 - 22:54

The United States district judge who approved the settlement, Edward Korman, was also due to announce a final list of Swiss companies, which will be included in the agreement.

Swiss companies that employed slave labour during the Second World War were invited to join the settlement in August in exchange for immunity from future lawsuits. Several are known to have come forward, including the world's largest food multinational, Nestlé.

Other Swiss companies thought to have joined the settlement include engineering group, Georg Fischer, algroup (Alusuisse Lonza) and ABB.

The banks were accused of not doing enough to locate holders of dormant accounts dating from the Holocaust era. A $1.25 billion (SFr2 billion) restitution settlement was agreed in 1998, and was given final approval by Korman two months ago.

Billed as an all-Switzerland accord, it covers liabilities against the two banks as well as the Swiss National Bank, other smaller banks and some tiers of government.

The main beneficiaries are expected to be Holocaust victims and their heirs, although former slave labourers, war refugees turned away from Switzerland's borders, gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses could also benefit. Payments are not expected to start until the end of the year.

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

A further 11 Swiss companies, which admitted to using slave labour during the Second World War, have joined a $4.8 billion German compensation fund. Roche, Ciba and Holderbank are among them.

Many of the Swiss companies that have come forward deny responsibility for employing slave labour, and say they joined the funds because they felt morally obliged to do so.

Nestlé said it only acquired control of its companies which employed slave labour after the war. Roche said it was participating to show solidarity with war victims.

On Monday, the World Jewish Congress was due to hold a special dinner to celebrate the conclusion of the settlement. President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, were to be present along with top Swiss bankers.

The Swiss government was not to be represented. According to Joseph Deiss, the foreign minister, currently in New York for a series of meetings at the United Nations, the Swiss authorities were not invited.

"Switzerland is revising her own history," said Deiss. "The government has also called for a complete review of what happened during the Second World War. To discuss this at this kind of event is not necessary."

by Jonas Hughes

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