Swiss Banks, Jews Come to Terms
NEW YORK (AP) _ Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors and Swiss banks finalized their $1.25 billion settlement early Friday, moving one step closer to compensating victims of the Nazis.
The parties in the class-action lawsuit, including the Swiss banks UBS AG and Credit Suisse, met Thursday and talked until 1 a.m. Friday in U.S. District Judge Edward Korman’s chambers, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
``This is a great victory for all Holocaust survivors,″ Steinberg said. ``All will be treated equally and no favor will be shown to those who happened to haven’t signed with a lawyer.″
Jewish groups say Holocaust victims deposited money in Swiss banks as the Nazis gained power in Europe, expecting to retrieve it later. But heirs and survivors say the banks stonewalled, claiming they could not find accounts or in some cases requesting nonexistent death certificates of victims killed in Nazi camps.
The judge will now schedule a fairness hearing to review the agreement and formally approve it, said attorney Stanley Chesley, counsel for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, an umbrella group for nine Jewish organizations. He said he hopes approval will come within the next several months.
The settlement, reached in August, ensures that Korman will appoint a special master to consider all proposals for the distribution of the money and to identify the beneficiaries, Steinberg said. The master is to suggest to the judge who should be included and how much goes to each claimant, and the judge will make a ruling.
The court will notify potential claimants through newspaper ads and other public means throughout the world, Steinberg said. He said those who consider themselves eligible will then be asked to call a toll-free number or write to a given address.
The World Jewish Congress official said all claimants whose families had Swiss accounts should be paid first. After that, he said, whatever funds remain ``should be divided among other beneficiaries worldwide.″
No date has been set for the next hearing. The judge’s office would not comment on the meeting, and Korman was not available later Friday.
The banks already have made a $250 million deposit in an escrow account, Steinberg said. The rest of the $1.25 billion is to be deposited in the next three years.
The settlement ends two years of litigation that has dominated U.S.-Swiss relations and marred the image of Switzerland, which declared neutrality during World War II.