UK may hand back Nazi gold

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The Independent Online
Nazi gold worth more than pounds 35m held in the vaults of the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve for half a century may be sent back to 10 European countries next week.

There was an outcry from Labour MPs and Jewish groups, which last night urged the Government to block its release, saying it should be distributed to Holocaust victims. Jeff Rooker, a Labour MP who has been asking Commons questions about the gold for more a decade, said: "If Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, is urging the Swiss to act with honour in this matter, what about us?"

In 1946, Britain, the US and France set up a commission to handle bullion liberated from the Nazis. Some of it has been distributed to governments of Nazi-occupied territory but 7,136kg, worth $85m (pounds 55m), is still in the vaults of the Bank of England and of the Federal Reserve. The Albanians have a legitimate claim to 2,454kg, which was only recently settled.

But the commission has been sitting on the remaining, unclaimed 4,682kg since 1946, pending agreement on the unrelated Albanian question. It is that Nazi gold, in bars and coins, that is in dispute. The Tripartite Commission is to meet next Wednesday and, after 50 years' inaction, there are now fears that it cannot get rid of the bullion quickly enough.

The current controversy over gold stolen from the Jewish victims of the Holocaust has left London, Washington and Paris exposed to charges of hypocrisy.

Under existing plans, the gold in Britain and the US will be divided up between the governments of countries occupied by the Nazis - Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, the then Yugoslavia and Italy.

But Mr Rooker, whose questions were answered by Mr Rifkind when he was a junior Foreign Office minister in the 1980s, said last night: "The British Government should now use its veto to stop the gold being sent packing.

"Instead, they should in all honour allow the Jewish groups and individuals who have legitimate and verifiable claims to put those claims in." That demand was endorsed by the Holocaust Educational Trust, which said that none of the gold should be distributed until a full public debate had been held.

Greville Janner MP, the trust chairman and vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said: "The Government report told us that the commission in 1946 was too lazy to process individual claims. They should do so now or hand the rest of the gold to the World Jewish Restitution Organisation to do so."