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Friday, June 19, 1998 Published at 21:06 GMT 22:06 UK

World: Europe

Jewish groups attack Swiss offer

The Nazis stole gold from thousands of holocaust victims

International Jewish organisations have reacted angrily to the $600m offer from three Swiss banks to settle claims by victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

BBC Correspondent Claire Doole in Geneva: "Jewish groups are determined not to let the issue drop."
The World Jewish Congress accused the banks of violating a confidentiality agreement, saying the future of the negotiating process on the issue would have to be re-examined. The Congress is reported to be seeking between $1bn and $3bn.

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

Christopher Myer of Swiss Bank Corporation: "We think it's definitely generous."
One member described the banks involved - Credit Suisse, Swiss Bank Corporation and the Union Bank of Switzerland - as a shame to the Swiss nation.

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

Paul Rhyn of Credit Suisse Bank: "This is our final offer."
A spokesman for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said the offer was not serious.

He said it would be rejected out of hand.

'Fair offer'

Rabbi Marvin Hier at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in New York: "I think it's preposterous."
The banks - the three largest in Switzerland - said the global settlement offer was fair and warned that they would 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 World War II.

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.

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

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.

'Private matter'

BBC correspondent Claire Doole: "no reasoning behind figure"
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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