News: Analysis & Commentary: INVESTIGATIONS
MORE EVIDENCE OF HIDDEN HOLOCAUST CASH
Did the Swiss come clean? Newly revealed files raise concerns
It has been widely held that officially neutral Switzerland quietly abetted Nazi Germany during World War II. But Swiss bankers long have denied charges that they are still hoarding assets that once belonged to Jewish Holocaust victims. An examination by Swiss bankers in 1995 turned up only $32 million--most of it 50 years' worth of interest that accumulated on small deposits.
But a newly declassified cache of U.S. intelligence documents raises skepticism in Congress about whether Swiss banks have come clean about their Holocaust holdings. Fueling suspicions are Treasury Dept. records from Operation Safehaven, a postwar effort to locate Nazi plunder, that suggest the Swiss have understated their holdings and their complicity with Germany. "There is more--there has to be," Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) fumed at an Apr. 23 hearing. Added Representative Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.): "We cannot rest while unnamed individuals profit from the deaths of the 6 million."
Among the most revealing pieces of evidence is a Safehaven document dated July 12, 1945, that lists 182 accounts held by Geneva-based Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) for mostly Romanian Jewish depositors. Worth $2 million at the time, these holdings are now worth $20 million. Lawmakers are also examining whether Swiss bankers have revealed all of their Nazi gold holdings. Swiss officials turned over $250 million in gold shortly after the war, but new Treasury records show that during one three-month period alone, more than 21 tons of gold, worth $21.5 million at the time, were shipped from Berlin to Bern with the help of the Nazi central bank.
More troubling, congressional investigators want to know if the Swiss helped Nazis hoard looted wealth as the war wound down. One 1945 document charges that Credit Suisse and Union Bank of Switzerland during 1944 "performed activities on behalf of the Nazis" including credit, currency exchange, and interbank transfers. And according to a 1947 document that described Swiss Bank Corp.'s wartime activities, Treasury officials concluded that SBC had frequently falsified documents to hide the German ownership of assets. When presented with the evidence, Swiss officials deemed it "in the public interest" not to prosecute its banks. Credit Suisse and Swiss Bank have adopted a no-comment policy about that period.
"PEANUTS." Swiss bankers take umbrage at the accusations that they're hiding assets. SGS officials say they don't know anything about the Romanian deposits. And UBS insists that a rigorous search has turned up only $10.5 million in deposits. "That's peanuts," UBS President Robert Studer said at a March press conference. Swiss bankers--whose damage control team in Washington includes former Bush White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray--seem eager to head off a backlash from hostile U.S. lawmakers and the White House. The Swiss Bankers Assn. recently agreed to establish a panel of bankers and Jewish leaders to oversee the investigation and named an ombudsman to assist in searches.
In the end, anyone hoping to discover new deposits will be disappointed, the Swiss say. Claims from descendants have been refused, because they "are supported by almost no information," Bank Julius Baer & Co. Chairman Hans J. Baer told Congress on Apr. 23. Baer predicted that a final accounting will show that virtually all holdings "already have been identified."
But lawmakers and Jewish leaders say that the Swiss are making it too difficult for descendants to stake their claims by charging $250 search fees and demanding unreasonable documentation. The controversy is already damaging Swiss bankers' image. If the new documents are an accurate guide to what the Swiss have to pay back, it could damage their balance sheets, too.By Dean Foust in Washington, with Neal Sandler in Jerusalem and John Parry in Geneva