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New pressure on Swiss to solve mystery of Nazi gold

Did Swiss banks help Nazis launder loot?

September 18, 1996
Web posted at: 7:15 p.m. EDT

BERN, Switzerland (CNN) -- Switzerland's Foreign Minister Wednesday said his country will reexamine a mystery a half century old: the fate of gold stashed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

"We are trying to look for a clear definition of the facts, making them as clear as possible, although they lie now 50 years behind us," said Flavio Cotti, Swiss Foreign Minister.

The announcement, in conjunction with British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, comes amid new allegations that Swiss banks played a key role in helping Nazi Germany to stash and launder valuables, including gold, plundered from Jews and victims in countries it invaded.

gold bar

Last week, the British Foreign office issued a report that has revived claims that Nazi Germany funneled to Switzerland some $500 million of gold looted from National Treasuries -- and German Jews.

Switzerland has said all legal obligations for the return of Nazi gold had been settled by a 1946 agreement with the Allied powers to pay them a settlement of 250 million Swiss francs, or about $60 million.

That's barely one tenth of the amount that some claim the Nazis actually deposited in Swiss banks.

Swiss officials said Wednesday they will create a commission of experts to study the extent and fate of both Nazi and Jewish riches deposited in neutral Switzerland during the war.

cotti

It's a move that was endorsed by British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who was in Bern Wednesday for talks with Cotti.

"I believe that the study, if it is established, if it goes ahead, will be able to answer many of the questions that are being asked," Rifkin said.

The commission will have to reckon with Switzerland's famously secretive banking laws.

Swiss law generally requires banks to keep records for only ten years. And in many cases banks can close accounts unclaimed after 20 years.

rifkind

"Generally speaking, the rule is that any account that lies dormant in a Swiss bank for 20 years, no deposits no withdrawals...the money reverts to the bank. In other words, they keep it," said Jeffrey Robinson, author of The Laundrymen.

The Swiss parliament must give final backing to legislation creating the historical commission, and Cotti said he expects that will happen.

What happened to the Nazi gold is a delicate question in Switzerland. The Swiss National Bank has acknowledged that it was too trusting of Germany in buying $1.2 billion Swiss francs ($300 million at 1946 exchange rates) worth of gold between 1938 and 1945.

Still unclear is whether the amounts cited are in U.S. dollars or Swiss francs, a question Rifkin said is "precisely one of the issues the investigation will look at."

CNN Correspondent Vicki Barker and Reuters contributed to this report.

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