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Monday, May 25, 1998 Published at 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK

World: Europe

Swiss National Bank criticised on Nazi gold

The Nazis stole gold from concentration camp victims

The behaviour in World War II of the Swiss National Bank, the biggest buyer of gold from Nazi Germany, has been strongly criticised in a report by a panel of nine independent historians.

A report by the panel says Swiss National (SNB) - which handled nearly 80% of all Nazi foreign gold transactions - was negligent, slow to react, and wedded to business as usual in spite of highly unusual circumstances.

And the report dismisses SNB's defence that by making itself useful, a German invasion was less likely, and says the argument that Switzerland's neutrality obliged it to accept Nazi gold wasn't credible.

As early as 1941, SNB knew the German Central Bank was dealing in gold looted from Belgian and Dutch central banks.

The bank made no effort to distinguish between legally obtained gold, and gold looted from occupied countries.

Despite the warnings of the Allies, SNB was one of the principal Swiss banks and insurance companies which continued to accept gold from Germany right up until the final months of the war.

But the report goes on say there is no evidence that the bank knew of the origin of so-called "victims' gold" - plundered from concentration and extermination camp victims.

The bank was reported to have been extremely slow in recognising that the Nazi regime was operating a policy of theft and plunder and that gold had been stolen from concentration camp victims.

However, SNB has confirmed that $134,000 of such gold was put into an account in the Swiss capital, Berne.

But the latest disclosures fail to shed any light on where that gold ended up or whether any other so-called "victims' gold" was handled by the Swiss bank.

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