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Thursday, December 24, 1998 Published at 05:28 GMT

World: Americas

US banks named in Holocaust suit

Stolen: Jewish gold melted down and restamped

Lawyers acting on behalf of victims of the Jewish holocaust and their families have accused two US banks of seizing their wealth during the Nazi occupation of France.

The families filed a class-action lawsuit against two leading banks, Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan, alleging that they were complicit in the seizure of wealth stolen from Jews as they were transported to death camps.

Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan are the first US banks to be named in legal action; several French banks are already facing similar lawsuits in the US courts.

A Chase Manhattan statement described the action as "unnecessary", as they were already working to reimburse with interest any Jewish customers or their heirs.

It said that only 100 accounts were in question.

JP Morgan said they would examine the allegations carefully.

But lawyers claim that Chase Manhattan's Paris operation was closely allied with the Nazi regime and thrived on its patronage.

They also allege that JP Morgan openly boasted of its anti-Jewish record and policies.

Morgan's response has been guarded. In a statement it said bank officials understood the seriousness of the case and would study the allegations with care.

Victories for claimants

A week ago, the United Kingdom's Barclays Bank agreed to a $3.6m payout to compensate the families of those whose assets were seized by Barclays branches in France during the Nazi occupation.

Earlier this year, Swiss banks settled after a long-running battle, with restitution payments to families of more than $1bn.

The banks had been under pressure from certain US states which had threatened to block business with the institutions unless they agreed to compensation.

In a landmark case in May, Estelle Sapir, whose father died in the Holocaust, received a sum reported to be worth $500,000 from a Swiss bank in compensation for lost assets.

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