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Deal Nears on Holocaust Claims

August 17, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ A large Italian insurance company is expected to pay at least $65 million to settle war-era policy claims from tens of thousands of Holocaust victims and their heirs, Sen. Afonse D’Amato said today.

The agreement with Generali was being negotiated in New York by Holocaust survivors and Jewish charities, said the New York Republican, who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and is participating in the negotiations.

An official of the bank in Washington said the agreement could be finalized this week.

A settlement, D’Amato said, ``would be a major breakthrough that could be precedent-setting _ making Generali the first major international insurance company that has admitted that there was culpability, that they denied payments to the heirs of Nazi victims who bought policies.″

Generali and several other European insurance companies face a federal court lawsuit in New York charging them with failing to honor policies after the war.

The settlement would affect tens of thousands of claims worldwide, including about one-third of policies bought by Jews in eastern Europe, where Generali was the largest seller of life insurance and annuity policies before World War II.

``These were working-class families who did not have the ability to open Swiss bank accounts,″ D’Amato said.

Last week, Switzerland’s two largest commercial banks _ United Bank of Switzerland and Credit Suisse _ agreed to pay $1.25 billion to cover claims and lawsuits against all Swiss banks where Nazi-era victims had accounts.

But that settlement does not cover claims on war-era insurance policies held by companies in Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland.

The Zurich Insurance Co., which was named in the New York lawsuit, announced last week that it would work with an international commission to help process unpaid claims.

D’Amato said he hopes Generali’s final offer ``will be a very significant increase over what’s being offered″ _ at least $65 million as of today, he said.

The senator said the parties were ``making an effort in very good faith, and we believe it may be the basis on which a settlement can be made. But you don’t have an agreement ’til it’s signed.″

In Trieste, Italy, where the bank is based, Generali spokeswoman Martina Pastorelli said today it’s premature to mention any specific amount of money. ``We’re working on an agreement, but we still haven’t reached one,″ she said.

In an effort to match lists of Holocaust victims with claims, the company has compiled a CD-ROM with the names of 301,000 people who had bought policies, Generali said. In addition, in a warehouse in Trieste, Generali has extensive records of all the policies it sold before the war.

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