ELECTION COUNTDOWN : Cook: We will take the lead in returning Nazi gold

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The Independent Online
A Labour government would host a conference in Britain in order to try to ensure a fair redistribution of gold stolen by the Nazis, the party has pledged.

Robin Cook, the shadow foreign secretary, has told Jewish organisations which have been promoting the idea that it would have Labour's support.

Greville Janner, the Labour MP and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET), first proposed a conference during a visit to Switzerland in February to bring together information from all countries that dealt with Nazi assets.

Although Switzerland has borne the brunt of criticism, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Argentina are among those who had dealings with the Nazi regime. Several are carrying out investigations similar to those of the Swiss into what happened to the gold and the other valuables.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, has told the HET that he is considering whether to back the conference, which has the support of the Swiss.

But Robin Cook pledged yesterday that a Labour government would "show leadership" by convening the meeting.

"Britain cannot solve the issue alone, but Britain can give a lead to get agreement among the countries involved. It is not good enough for the government to say it will fall in line if someone else takes a lead."

Some of the gold at issue is at present sitting in vaults in the Bank of England. It was gathered at the end of the Second World War and held by the Tripartite Gold Commission, of Britain, America and France, to be returned to countries whose national reserves were plundered by the Nazis.

But documents recently unearthed by the HET have reinforced the belief that some of the gold came originally from Holocaust victims.

Instead of going to countries, Jewish leaders believe it should be returned to the survivors or their families.

Mr Cook said: "For 50 years, Britain has sat on a small mountain of gold looted by the Nazis from Jewish communities across Europe. We really must not let this issue remain unresolved into another century."

Mr Janner said he was delighted by Mr Cook's announcement. "I hope that a conference on Nazi gold is held in Britain regardless of which party wins the election," he said.

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