Swiss Bank Account Panel Under Pressure to Finish Work

One month after Switzerland’s two largest banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion to settle Holocaust-era claims, a panel conducting a sweeping audit of Swiss banks is coming under pressure to wrap up its work.

So far, auditors have discovered just over $50 million in dormant accounts belonging to Holocaust victims, but some sources say that amount could double by the time the process is complete.

Determining the value of those accounts is considered a critical part of the settlement reached last month between the banks and Holocaust survivors, which brings resolution to all Holocaust-era claims against Switzerland, with the exception of insurance claims.

As part of the settlement, the banks agreed to pay out all dormant accounts, deducting the amount from the $1.25 billion sum.

But some Swiss bank officials complain that the process is not moving quickly enough and that as it drags on, they continue to foot the bill.

Paul Volcker, the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman who is heading the panel adjudicating claims, has defended the exhaustive search, now in its second year, saying that as the panel continues its work, it undoubtedly will come up with more accounts.

“The process is complicated, and efforts are being made to speed it up,” Volcker, who chairs the board of trustees of the Claims Resolution Foundation, said at an open meeting of the panel in New York last week.

Volcker also said that with the process well under way, he expects to resign from the panel soon.

Last year, the Volcker commission published the names of the holders of 5,570 bank accounts worth $51.6 million. Since then, 9,500 claims have been filed against 2,377 of those accounts. About 3,300 of those have been accepted as valid, and the rest have undergone an initial assessment and review by independent arbitrators.

The work of matching up claimants to accounts, undertaken by more than 200 auditors from international accounting firms, has been complicated by the fact that claims have been received from 27 countries in 20 languages. And in many cases, there have been multiple claims against a single account.

Most of the claims, about 20 percent, have come from people in the United States, followed by residents of Germany, France, Israel and Argentina.

Although the banks so far have only paid out about 25 accounts, Volcker said the first large group of payments is expected in the next month or so.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said he was satisfied with the pace of the process.

“I think, given the circumstances, it was necessary that this process take time,” he said. “It’s taken 50 years too long, but having begun the claims resolution tribunal some 14 months ago, I think [the delay] was unfortunate but necessary.”

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