Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Business: The Company File
Holocaust insurance pay-out
There were survivors - but many insurers ignored their claims
Leading European insurers have agreed to pay out the "real" value of pre-war life insurance policies bought by Holocaust victims.
The pay-outs will take into account inflation and currency devaluations.
The amount of outstanding claims is unknown, but industry analysts say the companies may have to find up to $4bn.
Jewish representatives say the number of policies involved ran in the hundreds of thousands, although only a small number of policyholders are still alive.
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress said: "The victors today were the Holocaust survivors and the cause of justice."
The deal was hammered out during a two-day meeting in London of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.
Not all insurers have agreed to the settlement, but some of Europe's leading companies - Germany's Allianz, Italy's Generali, France's Axa, and Switzerland's Winterthur and Zurich Financial Services - will soon begin to make payments under a fast-track process.
Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, said he hoped families would start receiving cheques this summer.
The five insurers have set up a $100m fund to cover the claims.
The companies are now expected to release the names of all their pre-war policyholders, so that surviving relatives can check whether they can stake any claims.
The commission intends to publish the names on the Internet.
European insurers had been under increasing public pressure to honour the claims. The stakes were raised when the US state of California threatened to name and shame recalcitrant insurers and possibly shut down their operations.
Until now the insurance companies had argued that the majority of policies had been underwritten by subsidiaries that had been nationalised in Eastern Europe after the war.
Some details of the deal still need to be worked out, especially the formula to determine today's value of pre-war policies. The next full commission meeting will be held in Jerusalem on 23-24 June to decide on a formula.
The members of the international commission are three US state insurance commissioners, representatives of the state of Israel, the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish groups and the insurance companies themselves.
Last year, Swiss banks had set up a large fund after accusations that they had profited from gold and other assets belonging to victims of the Holocaust.
A group of large German companies has agreed to compensate the survivors of slave labour that they had used during World War II.
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