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Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK

World: Europe

Insurers in Nazi-era claims deal

Lawyer Michael Witti says his clients will not except the deal

Several major European insurance companies have reached agreement with the World Jewish Congress on a scheme to settle unpaid claims on policies taken out by victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

The scheme provides for an international commission to examine the companies' archives, set up a process to resolve claims and determine a company's liability.

Provable claims would be paid from money in two new funds being financed by the companies.

[ image: Holocaust survivors recently began legal action against a German firm which allegedly smelted the gold teeth of Jews]
Holocaust survivors recently began legal action against a German firm which allegedly smelted the gold teeth of Jews
Among the firms that signed the agreement were Axa of France, Allianz of Germany and the Swiss companies, Winterthur and Zurich.

It is not clear how large the funds will be, but it is expected to be well into hundreds of millions of dollars.

"This means that finally moral and material restitution will finally be made," said Neil Levin, vice chairman of the commissioners group negotiating task force.

Court actions will continue

Lawyers for some Holocaust survivors and victims' relatives have already criticised the deal as inadequate and say they will continue with court actions against the companies, which refused to pay millions owed from policies dating back to the 1920s and 1930s.

Michael Witti, a Munich-based lawyer representing some 30,000 plaintiffs, said the deal provided no immediate compensation to claimants who have already waited more than 50 years.

"We will continue to pursue our class-action suit with all our energy," he said.

Jewish survivors and their families filed a lawsuit in New York last year against 16 European insurers.

The announcement comes a week after Italian insurance company, Generali, agreed to pay $100m to settle a number of legal actions brought on by a similar class-action suit.

Switzerland's two major commercial banks also agreed earlier this month to pay $1.25bn to survivors as restitution for lost assets.

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