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German bosses attacked on slave labour pay-outs

GERMANY'S CORPORATE bosses were depicted as Scrooges yesterday, after forcing the taxpayer to pick up most of the wage bill for the people they had driven into slavery during the Second World War.

"German industry has disgraced itself," said the Berlin daily Tagespiegel. "The undignified fight over the claims of victims of terror was shameful."

Industry held out to the bitter end, refusing to contribute a single pfennig more than the DM5bn it had grudgingly volunteered, in the face of a threatened global boycott of its products. Only when the government made its last-minute offer of an extra DM2bn did the package reach the minimum demanded by victim groups.

"We could have had this deal three months ago," said Jacek Tuczynski, president of the Foundation for German-Polish Reconciliation. But that time was lost because the private sector would not budge, he said.

The companies' contribution, in fact, will be even smaller than it appears at first sight, as their payments will be tax-deductible. About three- quarters of the total of DM10bn to compensate wartime "slave labourers" and "forced workers" will come out of the public purse, even though it was private companies that had profited from their chain-gangs.

Who will benefit from the deal has yet to be thrashed out among victims' groups. It is clear, though, that no one will receive more than the equivalent of pounds 5,000 in wages overdue for half a century.