Pressure is mounting on the Federal Reserve Board to block a $25 billion merger of two Swiss banks, but legal experts said Wednesday that it is unlikely to affect the central bank's decision.
Criticizing the handling by Swiss Bank Corp. and Union Bank of Switzerland of Holocaust survivors' claims, New York politicians are urging the Fed to bar the banks from combining.
"Swiss banks that stonewall Holocaust victims should not expect to have this country and its financial regulators condone their inexcusable behavior," Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato wrote to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on Wednesday.
But the Fed's authority to block mergers is limited and is not likely to be used in this case, legal experts said Wednesday. The Bank Holding Company Act requires the Fed to determine if the benefits of a deal-such as greater convenience and more efficiency-outweigh the detriments.
"I would be stunned if the Fed were to stop this merger," said John L. Douglas, a partner at Alston & Bird in Atlanta and a former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. general counsel.
"The Fed's view traditionally is that there are other venues available for these types of issue to be addressed," said Gil Schwartz, a partner at the Washington law firm Schwartz & Ballen and a former Fed lawyer.
The Swiss banks need Fed approval because both operate branches in the United States. Without it, the banks would have to scuttle the merger or give up their U.S. charters. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter. If approved, the resulting bank would have $600 billion of assets, $40 billion in the United States.
New York Gov. George Pataki kicked off this latest round of criticism on Tuesday.
"For too long Holocaust survivors and their heirs have been stonewalled about the fate of money rightfully belonging to them," Gov. Pataki said. Swiss Bank and Union Bank of Switzerland "can do even more when it comes to combing their archives for relevant records and returning deposits to their owners."
His statement was preceded by a letter to Mr. Greenspan from acting New York Banking Superintendent Elizabeth McCaul, who formally asked that the deal be rejected.