ZURICH - A committee auditing dormant Swiss bank accounts said Monday that some Swiss banks engaged in "questionable" practices, but it found no evidence of systematic diversion of funds belonging to victims of the Holocaust.
The Independent Committee of Eminent Persons headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker recommended the publication of 25,187 accounts, bringing to an end a three-year probe of Swiss banks. It said it found 53,886 accounts in Swiss banks with a connection to Holocaust victims.
UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group, Switzerland's two biggest banking companies, are not expected to have to add to an already agreed payout of $1.25 billion in compensation to Holocaust victims. They agreed to that amount in August 1998 to settle claims they had hoarded assets of mainly Jewish Holocaust victims.
"The auditors have reported no evidence of systematic destruction of records of victims' accounts, organized discrimination against the accounts of victims of Nazi persecution, or concerted efforts to divert the funds of victims of Nazi persecution to improper purposes," the committee said in its final report.
Still, the committee said, it found evidence "of questionable and deceitful actions by some individual banks in the handling of accounts of victims."
The World Jewish Congress' executive director, Elan Steinberg, said the report confirmed the fears of survivors, who had unsuccessfully tried to claim assets from Swiss banks. "The report in no way clears Swiss banks," he said in an interview. "The world is waiting for two words: 'We're sorry.' "
The committee didn't put a value on the accounts it found, saying "on the basis of information now available, no valid estimate can be made of the aggregate value." Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper suggested Monday that the dormant accounts are worth about $1.2 billion. The committee report said that 10,471 accounts, or 42% of those recommended for publication, contain assets with an estimated book value of about $21 million.
The Swiss Federal Banking Commission said it will decide on the committee's recommendation for publication of dormant accounts "in the first quarter of 2000." The commission said it is committed to supporting a federal law on unclaimed assets in Switzerland, the lack of which it said was partly to blame for the "few cases in which banks did not conduct themselves properly in the past."
"Questionable and deceitful actions" found by the committee included the withholding of information from Holocaust victims or their heirs about their accounts, failure to keep adequate records, many cases of insensitivity to victims or heirs of victims trying to claim dormant or closed accounts, and a general lack of diligence - even active resistance - in response to earlier private and official inquiries about dormant accounts.