Funds from Swiss banks totalling SFr75.2 million ($43.7 million) will be distributed by this week to settle claims arising from the Holocaust era. They are the first damages to be paid from a fund financed by UBS and Credit Suisse following a 1998 settlement with Jewish organisations.
Earlier this month, Judge Edward Korman, the US magistrate overseeing implementation of the settlement and distribution of the SFr2.15 billion ($1.25 billion) given by Swiss banks, ordered that at least $43.7 million be distributed now.
UBS and Credit Suisse had agreed to pay the $1.25 billion into a special fund during the 1998 settlement.
Part of the first payment will go to people who lost assets because of persecution by the Nazi regime. For humanitarian reasons, Jews living in 140 locations in the former Soviet Union will be among the first to receive damages. Many of those Jews have been destitute.
The first payment ordered by Judge Korman will also compensate 35,000 former slave labourers and 400 former refugees who were not admitted to Switzerland during the Holocaust period, and others who were mistreated after entering the country. Individual cheque amounts will vary from SFr860 ($500) to about SFr4,300 ($2,500 dollars).
Tribunal looks for cooperation
As the third anniversary of the settlement approaches, the World Jewish Congress director Elan Steinberg told swissinfo he expects Korman to finish the distribution plan by the end of summer, and that by the end of next year, "we hope that the processes of allocation should have ended and all survivors should be paid by that time."
While UBS and Credit Suisse have said they welcome the compensation phase, the Claims Resolution Tribunal says that Swiss banks are dragging their feet.
"We are still looking for full cooperation from the banks on having access to the information that was developed on accounts opened between 1933 and 1945", the Special Master of the Tribunal, Michael Bradfield, told swissinfo.
The mandate of the Claims Resolution Tribunal is to analyse and rule on claims by survivors and heirs who allege ownership of dormant accounts. Bradfield says survivors and heirs have until August 5 to submit claims to the Tribunal in Zurich.
Renouncing future claims
After August 5, the Tribunal will devote itself exclusively to examining and selecting the claims as well as adjudicating the funds. According to the Special Master, this process should be completed by mid-2003. "We have a budget for another two years for claims analysis and adjudication and we expect to be finished within those two years", Bradfield said.
The settlement provides for compensation of four categories of Holocaust survivors or their heirs: Owners of bank accounts opened between the rise of Adolf Hitler and the end of World War 2; refugees; slave labourers; and people whose assets were looted.
In return, Holocaust victims agreed to renounce all future claims against the Swiss government, the Swiss central bank and some Swiss private companies. Last April, Judge Korman authorized 27 Swiss firms and nearly 300 subsidiaries to benefit from the protection outlined in the settlement.
by Marie-Christine Bonzom