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Thursday, August 20, 1998 Published at 02:21 GMT 03:21 UK

World: Europe

Italian insurers settle Holocaust debt

Senator Alfonse D'Amato (left) helped broker the settlement

One of Italy's biggest insurance companies has agreed to pay £100m to relatives of thousands of victims of the Holocaust during the Second World War.

Assicurazioni Generali was one of the largest sellers of life assurance and annuity policies in Eastern Europe in the 1930s.

Generali offered the sum to settle a class action suit brought in the United States by a group of Jews whose insurance policy claims were denied after the war.

The plaintiffs said the policies had been sold in a climate of fear as a Nazi tide flooded Europe.

Death certificates demanded

But after the war the insurers were able to avoid paying out by demanding death certificates which did not exist.

Edward Fagan, a lawyer representing the families, said the information and assistance given by Generali will allow them to sue 13 other European banks and insurers.

He said the next step would be action to recover several billion dollars from several German and Austrian banks.

US federal district judge Michael Mukasey approved the settlement, which releases Generali from further liability.

The Trieste-based firm's vice general director, Guido Pastori, said: "This settlement will ensure substantial relief to survivors of the Holocaust and their heirs in the most timely manner possible."

Generali's board of directors will give the deal their seal of approval at a meeting later this month.

'Historic opportunity'

New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who helped to broker the deal, said: "This gives us an historic opportunity to go forward with the other insurers. I hope they will avail themselves of this fair and humanitarian process."

He said it was a "race against the clock", with many of the survivors in their 80s or 90s.

US Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat said he hoped the Generali settlement would encourage other companies to resolve their outstanding claims.

Earlier this month, Swiss insurer Zurich Insurance agreed to resolve the outstanding insurance claims of Holocaust victims.

Swiss banks have also agreed a $1.25bn compensation deal with Jewish groups over assets seized by the Nazis during the Second World War.

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