Swiss shy from gold pledge

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The Independent Online
Switzerland retreated yesterday from hints that it might be prepared to renegotiate the post-war agreement on Nazi gold, to the disappointment of Jewish groups that believe the settlement was immoral.

In talks with Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, Flavio Cotti, his Swiss counterpart, said he could make no promises about any gold still in Swiss vaults, despite pressure for remaining hoards to be handed over. Earlier this week Switzerland set up a commission to investigate its wartime financial dealings with Germany. Mr Cotti said no predictions were possible until the inquiry was complete; he expected it to take two to three years.

The 1946 Washington Agreement struck a deal for disposal of Nazi assets and included payment by Switzerland of $60m of gold, thought to be 12 per cent of the Nazi gold in its vaults when the war ended.

The MP Greville Janner, who as chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust has led the campaign for full disclosure of holdings by Switzerland, described the deal as "thoroughly immoral" and asked for its re-negotiation. But Mr Cotti repeated Swiss assertions that it was "definitive".

Criticism of the Swiss followed declassification of files in the US and a Foreign Office memo suggesting it held on to $500m of Nazi gold, now worth several billion dollars. Reports in Switzerland have suggested the Foreign Office document contained inaccuracies; yesterday Mr Rifkind stood by it, although he welcomed the Swiss initiative in setting up a commission of inquiry.

A Holocaust Educational Trust spokeswoman said it was grateful that Mr Rifkind had kept his word and challenged the Swiss. She added: "We are disappointed about the speed of the Swiss inquiry. They're quibbling figures in the Foreign Office report. If they know what the figures are, we'd like to know now."

There was a separate meeting yesterday of the Tripartite Gold Commission, set up after the war to return gold stolen by the Nazis from reserves of countries they invaded. About pounds 48m remains in the Bank of England and there have been recent pleas for it to go to Jewish groups rather than back into national reserves.

Emrys Davies, the commission's secretary-general, said he and the commissioners representing Britain, France and the US had discussed recent publicity surrounding the remaining gold.

But, he said: "The commission cannot possibly change the terms of reference under which it was set up. In theory, the three governments could."

However, he believed such a change might need the ratification of all the Allied signatories of the post-war settlements.