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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Swiss bank exploited Nazi slaves
Auschwitz
Some 400 labourers from Auschwitz worked at the factory
By Claire Doole in Geneva

One of the world's biggest banks, UBS of Switzerland, has admitted for the first time that it exploited Nazi slave labourers during World War II.

The bank has confirmed it owned a cement factory where SS officers forced at least 400 prisoners from the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp to work.

Swiss companies that used Nazi forced labour have been given the next three weeks to identify themselves or face possible lawsuits from former slave labourers and their families.

It is the first time the bank, which prevented Holocaust survivors and their families from retrieving their wartime assets, has admitted exploiting slave labour.

Holocaust settlement

UBS, along with another big Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, last week gave its formal endorsement to a $1.25bn deal to compensate victims of the Nazi Holocaust and their families.

The admission that it exploited slave labourers from Auschwitz opens a new chapter in the Swiss bank's controversial wartime past.

The bank tried to sell the cement factory to the Nazis but the deal foundered over Swiss insistence the Germans pay in Swiss francs.

A spokesman for the bank said it was confident that any claims for compensation would be covered by the Holocaust settlement, which was agreed in 1998 with Jewish organisations.

Lawsuits

But two years on, none of the money from the settlement has been distributed and the US judge who endorsed the deal has demanded new terms.

Within the next three weeks, all Swiss companies that may have used Nazi forced labour have been asked to identify themselves.

A failure to do so could lead to a rash of lawsuits from former slave labourers and their families.

So far, the food group Nestlé, pharmaceutical company Roche and life-sciences group Novartis have come forward.

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See also:

26 Jul 00 | Europe
Swiss Nazi row ends in US court
13 Aug 98 | Americas
Nazi victims agree $1bn deal
15 Dec 99 | Europe
Swiss Holocaust report challenged
19 May 00 | Europe
Swiss holocaust payout
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