Swiss banks to reveal Nazi gold secrets

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The Independent Online
On Monday Swiss banks will be ordered to suspend their strict code of secrecy for the first time in an effort to locate gold and other assets stolen by the Nazis from victims of the Holocaust.

In response to global pressure, the Swiss government has prepared a decree which will oblige Swiss banks to surrender all records and account information relating to their dealings with Nazis during World War Two.

The move may at last solve a 50 year old mystery surrounding the fate of more than $5 billion worth of Jewish assets plundered by the Third Reich as it swept through Europe.

The decision comes after a week of profound embarrasment for the Swiss. Last Saturday secret intelligence documents obtained by the World Jewis Congress in New York revealed that Swiss banks helped leading Nazis including Hitler, Goering and Von Ribbentrop to conceal $6 billion dollars worth of stolen goods including gold ingots that had been manufactured from the gold fillings of holocaust victims.

In post war negotiations with the US and Britain, the Swiss banks had claimed they only held $500 million in accounts opened by Nazi sympathisers.

By last Thursday Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind had offered evidence to support the WJC and the US government had revealed it was half way through its own investigation of Swiss banks and their relationship with the Nazis, especially the notorious SS.

The Swiss decree will be an important tool for a joint commission established by the Swiss government last month. Its six members include three Jewish organisations and three Swiss banks. They already have the power to follow leads into secret acounts under the chairmanship of former Federal Reserve Governor Paul Volcker.

Once the decree has done its work, holocaust victims and their descendents will be invited to inspect accounts and make claims.

The US government has been putting pressure on the Swiss to issue Monday's decree. In a private letter to the World Jewish Congress, President Clinton said the issue was a "moral one and a question of justice". He supported efforts aimed at removing Jewish assets from any secret accounts.