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Friday, June 19, 1998 Published at 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK

World: Europe

Swiss banks offer $600m

The Nazis stole gold from thousands of holocaust victims

The three biggest commercial banks in Switzerland have offered to pay a maximum of $600m in a global settlement of the claims by victims of the Nazi Holocaust during the Second World War.

BBC correspondent Claire Doole reports on the move by the Swiss banks
The confiscation by Nazi Germany of around $580m of gold - worth around $5.6bn at today's prices - came from governments and civilians.

The civilians included Jews murdered in concentration camps, from whom everything was taken down to the gold fillings of their teeth.

Credit Suisse, Swiss Bank Corporation and the Union Bank of Switzerland say it is a fair offer and they warn that they will not - as they put it - entertain unfounded and excessive payments above this amount.

It is the first time the banks have named a figure in their continuing dispute with Jewish groups over funds the banks are said to have hoarded after the Second World War.

The banks are currently in negotiations in New York with Jewish organisations and class action claimants on a compensation settlement.

Stark reaction

There has been angry response from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) which was reported to be seeking compensation of between one and three billion dollars.

It accused the banks of violating a confidentialty agreement.

The World Jewish Restitution organisation, the group which links the WJC with other Jewish organisations said the amount was "robbery and an evil deed."

The chairman, Avraham Burg, said: "The three banks... hid the stolen property for years and now are trying to earn interest."

Reports, quoting unnamed sources, have said Jewish groups would boycott the next round of talks scheduled for June 23 because they felt the banks' offer was too low.

A 'private matter'

In their statement, released in Zurich, the three banks accused the WJC and lawyers for Holocaust survivors of seriously jeopardising settlement negotiations and breaching a court order for confidentiality.

The Swiss authorities and Swiss National Bank have refused to take part in negotiations with the groups of Holocaust survivors, although other Swiss banks have urged them to do so.

Observers believe their offer is a way of putting pressure on them to make up any shortfall, but the Swiss Government believes the settlement is a private matter between the banks.

The Swiss National Bank maintains US courts have no jurisdiction over it, and said on Thursday it would oppose any legal moves over its handling of Nazi gold.

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