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More Swiss bank money for Nazi victims

Forced labourers had to carry a workbook (www.compensation-for-forced-labour.org)

Holocaust survivors, as well as forced labourers and refugees denied wartime asylum in Switzerland, are to get more money from a Swiss restitution fund.

The windfall comes thanks to interest earned on the $1.25 billion (SFr1.86 billion) that Swiss banks set aside in 1998 for victims of the Nazi era.

Originally a settlement between Swiss banks and Jewish plaintiff groups, most of the cash - some $800 million - has been set aside for dormant accounts dating back to the Second World War.

The rest is destined for other wartime victims - especially refugees that were turned away at Swiss borders and individuals forced into unpaid work.

Some of the money has already been distributed. In September, some $67 million in payouts were approved for former forced labourers and refugees.

Extra cash

The additional payouts - which are due to start on Friday - will differ according to the category of claimant.

Hillary Kessler Godin, a spokeswoman for the group that manages the payouts, says forced labourers will now receive $1,450 (up from an original payout of $1,000), while former refugees will get $3,625 (up from $2,500).

Godin says an extra $53 million will also be distributed to some 115,727 Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Pressure has been mounting on authorities to expedite the distribution of restitution money.

Need for speed

In June, Paul Volcker, a so-called "Special Master" of the Zurich-based Claims Resolution Tribunal (CRT), moved to simplify the claims process.

He also criticised the tribunal's structure for making the resolution of claims on dormant accounts too cumbersome.

To speed things up, the CRT gave in-house lawyers the task of preparing draft decisions - rather than eminent outside judges. People such as stepsons and stepdaughters of dormant account holders were also allowed to apply for the money.

In recent years, Switzerland's wartime role has cast a long shadow over the country's international reputation - and opened a bitter debate about what to do with the money.

Proponents of the payouts are eager to ensure victims receive their share in a timely manner.

Volcker has said in the past that he hopes to distribute money to some 36,000 applicants by the end of the year.

One thing custodians of the Holocaust funds are eager to avoid is that a substantial amount of money goes unclaimed.

swissinfo

Holocaust facts

The money for Nazi victims will come from a fund set up by Swiss banks in 1998.
Forced labourers will receive $1,450 (instead of an expected payout of $1,000).
Refugees who were turned away at the Swiss border will now get $3,625 (up from $2,500).
Most of the money has been set aside for holders of dormant accounts, who collectively will receive about $800 million.

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