Week in Switzerland

The week saw Switzerland yet again embroiled in a controversy over dormant bank accounts from the Holocaust era. This time, Switzerland found itself in the unusual position of being defended by an American Jewish writer.

This content was published on July 22, 2000 - 11:43

Norman Finkelstein claimed in his book "The Holocaust Industry", which was released on Thursday, that American Jewish organisations distorted the facts of the Nazi genocide to blackmail Swiss and German companies into paying reparations.

Finkelstein said Holocaust survivors "never saw a dime" of the money.

Jewish groups in Switzerland promptly condemned the book. Thomas Lyssy, vice-president of the federation of Jewish communities in Switzerland, told swissinfo the book totally misrepresented the case against Swiss banks.

On Friday, Switzerland agreed to hand over to Nigeria $66 million (SFr110 million) from bank accounts linked to the former dictator, Sani Abacha.

The amount to be returned comes from $670 million in accounts frozen by the Swiss authorities in response to the Nigerian government's search for funds stashed abroad by Abacha, his relatives and associates.

Nigeria has said up to $3 billion are in European accounts.

The decision came just two days after another foreign corruption scandal was found to have links with Switzerland. Justice officials in Geneva confirmed they had opened an inquiry into the bank account of a Brazilian citizen at the centre of a scandal which has rocked Brazil.

Nicolau dos Santo Neto, a former judge and president of the industrial tribunal, has not been seen since April. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

The authorities want to question him over a construction project to build a new tribunal. About $80 million was set aside for the project but most has gone missing. The account in Geneva contains approximately $6.8 million.

Swiss companies involved in alleged corrupt dealings abroad also came under government pressure.

In response to criticism from development aid organisations, the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, warned on Tuesday that the government would withhold export risk guarantees from companies guilty of bribing foreign officials.

Couchepin referred to tighter anti-corruption laws which came into force on May 1.

The non-governmental organisation, Berne Declaration, had claimed that officials in the economics ministry were trying to block Indonesia's corruption probe into business dealings between Swiss firms and the former Suharto regime.

A new report on crime issued on Thursday confirmed reports that Switzerland's border police are facing rising levels of violence. It also found that drug trafficking is rising.

The statistics showed that the border guards handed over an average of 80 people to police each day during the first six months of this year.

In most of those cases, they were required to employ weapons to secure compliance from what they say are increasingly violent and ruthless people. They said the worst-affected area was Geneva.

The president of Switzerland's biggest international film festival, Giuseppe Buffi, died while on holiday in Italy. Buffi, who was also head of the cantonal government in Ticino, died on Thursday on his way to hospital.

The 62 year-old's death comes just two weeks before the opening of the 53rd Locarno film festival. The federal office for culture claimed Buffi's death would likely have a disastrous impact on this year's event.

Buffi's other main achievement was the setting up of the first Italian-speaking university in Switzerland.

A decision taken by a small Swiss company at the beginning of the week was cause for reflection on increasing globalisation. The company, a tiny health care firm, was forced to change its name from McWellness to GetWellness.

It accused the McDonalds fast food giant of corporate bullying. McDonald's filed its opposition to the United States Tradename and Patent Office.

The case is currently under appeal, but the Basel-based firm, said it changed its name because it could not afford a long and costly legal battle. The company's founder said the name was inspired by her former employers McKinsey and Co, which seemed to promise global standards.

swissinfo with agencies

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