Embargoed until February 5, 2001
10:00 a.m. Eastern time
The Claims Resolution Process Begins
Special Masters Paul A. Volcker and Michael Bradfield today announced the worldwide publication on the Internet of a list of names of the people who owned some 21,000 accounts in Swiss banks during the years from 1933 to 1945 and were "probably or possibly" victims of Nazi persecution. The publication of the list, together with the distribution of forms for making claims, begins a claims resolution process that will provide awards to victims, or their heirs, establishing ownership of Swiss bank accounts. The existing Claims Resolution Tribunal ("CRT") in Zurich will evaluate and decide on claims. Up to $800 million from the $1.25 billion Settlement Fund established by the settlement of the Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation will be available for payment awards.
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Mr. Volcker said: "This day has been a long time in coming, but we are in the last chapter of the review of the handling by Swiss banks of funds of Holocaust victims. Claimants should provide the most complete information that they can about the accounts that they or their relatives now claim. With these materials in hand, the CRT can begin the process on analyzing claims and making award."
In deciding upon claims, the CRT will have the substantial resource of records on accounts in Swiss bank from the 1935-1945 that period that were compiled by the auditors who carried out the investigation conducted by the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons ("ICEP"). In addition to the 21,000 accounts published today, the ICEP auditors compiled records on another 15,000 accounts where there is evidence of a possible relationship to Nazi victims, but not as compelling as for the published accounts. In addition, there is an ICEP auditor compiled database of about 4.0 million accounts that existed during the relevant 1939-45 period that can be used in the claims resolution process if there is a reasoned and satisfactory basis for doing so.
The Rules to govern the CRT process were approved last week by Judge Korman, the presiding Judge in the Holocaust Victims Assets case. Mr. Volcker said: "Assuming voluntary cooperation by all banks, the Rules make it possible to fully use the data resources from the ICEP investigation. This has been made possible by developing a method for using this data in a way that assures that Swiss law requirements on the confidentiality and privacy of bank records can be preserved."
A major effort has been made to provide full information about the claims resolution program to potential claimants. An information packet that includes a claim form and instructions has been mailed for arrival today to 82,000 people who had responded to a questionnaire indicating that they had a claims to a Swiss account from the relevant period. The information packet includes directions for obtaining help in filling out the form from volunteers organizations. The 21,000 account list, the claim form and instructions, and other information about the claims resolution process, can be viewed and downloaded from various websites on the Internet. These include the official publication website of the Swiss Banks Association (www.dormantaccounts.ch), the web site of the CRT (www.crt-ii.org) and the website of the Holocaust Victims Assets Litigation (www.swissbankclaims.com).
As of February 2000, the ICEP auditors identified approximately 46,000 accounts in Categories 1 - 4, 26,000 of which were judged as deserving of publication given the evidence of a probable relationship. Since that time, the number of accounts for publication, have been refined to approximately 21,000 and the total number of accounts judged to be "probably or possibly" related to Holocaust victims is now listed at 36,000. Account totals have been reduced by 9,999 accounts. Further research has established that 3,503 of the earlier identified accounts were active after 1945. Another 2,589 accounts were of the owners that had a non Axis domicile or were closed before the account owner's home country was invaded by Axis forces. Some 1,435 accounts were found to be duplicates.
The careful review process of new information about accounts brought to the ICEP auditors for their decision has provided some additional assurance that the accounts that have survived this review have been appropriately characterized as "probably or possibly" those of victims of Nazi persecution.
In concluding its earlier work, the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons noted that the investigation had been
"a long, expensive, and difficult process, filled with frustration and emotion …. The Committee is satisfied that its work has now developed the record of the Swiss banks with respect to the funds of victims of Nazi persecution with as much detail, objectivity, and accuracy as the passage of time permits. A framework can be established for providing a measure of justice to those whose claims have for too long been denied."
The Special Masters also announced that an Advisory Committee, chaired by Mr. Israel Singer, Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, is being appointed to advise the Special Masters on their work.
Mr. Volcker, in summarizing the new work, said "With the Claims Resolution Process now underway, crucially unfinished business can finally be completed, drawing a final line under this contentious and difficult matter.