Blair chooses Mackay to head Nazi-gold conference

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In the latest example of bipartisan initiatives by Tony Blair, Lord Mackay, Lord Chancellor in John Major's government, is to chair the London conference on the repayment of pounds 46m in looted gold to victims of the Nazis.

The choice of a Conservative peer to head the conference may cause some surprise but Lord Mackay of Clashfern was involved in the wrangle over the future of the gold under the last government.

The gold has been in bank vaults in New York and the Bank of England since the Second World War, pending agreement on how it should be disbursed under a commission set up in 1946 by France, America and Britain. Lord Mackay's appointment is the latest in a series of similar initiatives. It was announced this week that David Mellor, a former Tory minister, is to chair a football task-force, while Paddy Ashdown and other Lib- Dems will be part of a Cabinet sub-committee on co-operation.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, is due next week to announce that the former Lord Chancellor will chair the international conference, probably in December, of the tripartite nations, with invitations to other countries involved in the seizure and restoration of the gold.

Invitations are expected to go to neutral countries, such as Switzerland and Portugal, Sweden, Turkey and Spain, where looted gold was traded by the Nazis to buy imports during the war. It is possible invitations will also go to Argentina and Brazil, where Nazis were traced after the war, in addition to Israel, and Holocaust victims' groups.