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Israeli banks to be probed for Holocaust accounts

JERUSALEM, May 17 (JTA) — Israel’s banks have agreed to let an external auditor inspect their records of dormant accounts that may have belonged to Holocaust victims or their heirs.

The announcement came Wednesday, when the heads of the nation’s biggest banks appeared before a Knesset committee probing Holocaust-era claims.

The announcement represented a breakthrough for a small group of claimants, who have waged a campaign during the past three years for greater accountability from the banks.

They waged their campaign in Israel as the world Jewish community pressed European institutions to come clean about their past.

“We must exhaust all of the processes, according to law, in order to ensure that everything will be done to expose the remnants of inheritances and to return them to their rightful owners,” legislator Colette Avital, who is heading the committee, said at Wednesday’s session.

Galia Maor, chief executive of Bank Leumi — Israel’s second largest bank, which experts say has the most Holocaust-era accounts — said the bank would be happy to cooperate.

She added that the bank has publicized a list of all accounts that were dormant since 1955, but not those that had earlier been handed over to Israel’s custodian general.

Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s biggest bank, said it found only 170 accounts dating back to 1944 in its files, but could not locate one-third of the holders and transferred them to the custodian as well.

An additional meeting will be held to discuss the details of the planned audit.

There are still a number of issues to be tackled, including legal questions regarding banking secrecy and how to calculate the current value of dormant accounts.

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