Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato sharply criticized Swiss banks Wednesday for the way they have handled the assets of Holocaust victims.
Testifying before the House Banking Committee, the New York Republican noted that $2 million was paid to 961 claimants in 1962 after the Swiss Parliament ordered banks to search for Holocaust victims' funds. In 1995, responding to pressure from the World Jewish Congress, another search through Swiss banks found $31.9 million in 774 dormant accounts.
"The fact that every time the Swiss banks and the Swiss government search the records they find more money raises a serious question," Sen. D'Amato said.
From these and other examples, "we can see the duplicity of the Swiss government and Swiss banks," he said. "They hid in the shadows ... and acted to deny the rightful owners their assets in Swiss banks."
Sen. D'Amato also criticized the decision of the recently formed "Committee of Eminent Persons" to conduct an audit rather than a more vigorous legal investigation. The committee, formed in May after months of disagreement between the Swiss Bankers Association and Jewish organizations, should not be financed by the Swiss Bankers, Sen. D'Amato said.
The committee's leader, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, recognized Sen. D'Amato's concerns but told the House Banking Committee that "no equally promising approach seemed available then, nor does it now."
The committee will examine records of unclaimed deposits of money and other valuables placed in Swiss banks between 1934 and 1946. From that audit, it will quantify the amount of dormant assets held by Swiss banks that could have belonged to Holocaust victims, and determine if the banks acted appropriately in handling the accounts.
Switzerland's Ambassador Thomas Borer maintained the Swiss government is working in good faith. He said an independent commission is expected to be approved by his government on Friday to conduct a "comprehensive investigation into all aspects of Switzerland's role as a financial center during and around the war years, and its relation with Nazi Germany."
Mr. Borer said he expected the investigation to be complete within two to three years, a time frame that Sen. D'Amato said was unacceptable.
Mr. Shea writes for the Medill News Service