GENEVA (Sep. 17)
In an effort to repair its fast-tarnishing image, Switzerland has announced that it will move toward lifting its bank secrecy laws to allow an inquiry into the whereabouts of Nazi gold and Jewish assets deposited in the country during World War II.
Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti announced Monday that a panel of six to 12 historians and legal and financial experts would be formed to investigate Switzerland’s financial dealings with Nazi Germany and to determine whether Switzerland was doing enough to locate the assets of Jews who died in the Holocaust.
Cotti made the announcement after the Federal Council, the country’s Cabinet, approved legislation to form the investigative panel.
“Our reputation is at stake, and we must now clarify this painful matter with all the strength and competence possible,” Cotti told a news conference.
The panel was expected to begin its work in April, after it gets parliamentary approval to proceed, Cotti said.
The panel will have five years to complete its report, he added.
The Federal Council called for the formation of the panel after the British Foreign Office issued a report last week alleging that neutral Switzerland had kept nearly 90 percent of the gold it purchased from Nazi Germany during the war years.
At current rates, that gold is valued at nearly $1 billion.
The Foreign Office report, which was based on documents already known to historians, revived allegations that the Swiss had given only a fraction of that sum to the Allies in a settlement reached in 1946.
“There is no doubt that these accusations have badly damaged Switzerland’s image,” Cotti said.
“It is therefore all the more important to investigate Switzerland’s financial relations with Nazi Germany.”
Swiss bankers have been accused of duplicity for having used their bank secrecy laws as a cover for keeping gold they purchased from the Reichsbank during the war despite warnings from the Allies that much of the gold had been looted from countries the Nazis occupied during the war.
Swiss National Bank President Hans Meyer attended the news conference with Cotti to address speculation that Nazi gold was still hidden in Switzerland.
“I cannot answer that with a yes or a no,” Meyer said, but added that Switzerland had fulfilled all its legal obligations for returning the Nazi gold in the 1946 settlement with the Allies.
“This was not one of the best pages in the history of the national bank, and I do not hesitate to say that we regret it,” he added.