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Friday, July 3, 1998 Published at 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK

World: Europe

Swiss banks and Jewish gold

Inmates at Auschwitz concentration camp

Relatives of Jewish Holocaust victims accuse Swiss banks of refusing to release assets deposited by tens of thousands of people who died in the Nazi concentration camps.

The banks are also accused of handling property looted by Nazi Germany from death camp victims, including gold teeth and wedding rings.

Jewish organisations say that, after World War II, the Swiss Government and the banks made it impossible for survivors or their heirs to reclaim the funds which had been deposited. They say the banks sought non-existent death certificates or claimed the accounts were untraced.

Three banks - Credit Suisse, Swiss Bank and UBS - have offered a take-it-or-leave-it settlement of $600m in response to the claims.

'Insulting' offer

Jewish leaders have rejected the offer as "insulting" and "humiliating", saying it is far less than the dormant wartime assets Holocaust victims say the banks stole from their families.

US Jewish groups are seeking a $1.5bn settlement that would include the banks, the Swiss central bank and the Swiss Government.

The issue has become an emotive one in Switzerland, where a government-appointed commission of Swiss and foreign historians has criticised the Swiss National Bank for turning a blind eye and failing to question the source of gold received during the war from the Nazi authorities.

Talks impasse

Talks on a global settlement between Jewish groups and the banks have reached an impasse.

The Swiss Government has strongly criticised a move by US local authorities to impose sanctions on Swiss banks over the affair, and bank officials have said they are considering revoking the $600m offer.

They have also raised the prospect of suing US states or cities that impose sanctions.

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