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Swiss personalities say government mismanaged Nazi gold affair

January 29, 1997

BERN, Switzerland (AP) _ More than 100 leading personalities issued a statement today saying the Swiss severely mishandled the Nazi gold affair and calling on the government to do an about-face.

The signatories _ writers, actors and film producers _ complained they felt ``discredited by the behavior of Swiss banks and the ruling Federal Council.″

Their appeal followed a New Year’s Eve interview with outgoing President Jean-Pascal Delamuraz in which he characterized demands by Jewish groups that the Swiss pay compensation to Holocaust victims as ``blackmail″ and ``extortion.″

Today’s statement criticized Delamuraz for merely ``regretting the impact″ of his words and the government for failing to distance itself from the president’s remarks.

``The standing and credibility of Switzerland as a democratic nation are compromised and imperiled,″ the statement said.

``The behavior of the president and the federal council has caused severe damage to our country’s view of itself and its culture,″ it added.

Jewish groups have accused Swiss banks of holding up to $7 billion in savings belonging to Jews who later died in the Holocaust. The banks have denied this.

The groups have also accused Switzerland of acting as Hitler’s bankers, laundering Nazi gold looted from the central banks of occupied countries.

The World Jewish Congress and the Jerusalem-based Jewish Agency threatened boycotts against Swiss banks unless the comments were retracted.

The signatories stressed they had not acted under pressure from any group but Paul Parin, one of the authors, said the aim of the statement was to persuade politicians to revise their thinking.

``This would perhaps help to repair the image of Switzerland,″ he said.

The statement will be placed in full-page advertisements in several Swiss newspapers over the next few days, he said.

Meanwhile, in a separate move, Switzerland today named Alfred Defago new ambassador to the United States following the resignation Monday of Carlo Jagmetti for his remarks about the affair.

Defago is currently General Consul in New York.

Jagmetti was forced to reign after suggesting in a confidential document that the controversy should be seen as war that ``Switzerland must fight and win on two fronts: foreign and domestic.″

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