Over the last two years the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons (ICEP) has searched Swiss banks for the unclaimed assets of Holocaust victims. The Swiss Federal Banking Commission (SFBC), which supervised the process, has recently responded to the ICEP's final report.

The ICEP identified almost 54,000 accounts that may be related to victims of nazi persecution. However, these presumed relationships are circumstantial. It has not been proved that (i) the holders of these accounts were Holocaust victims or (ii) the accounts were withheld from Holocaust victims.

This also applies to the 25,000 accounts which the ICEP has recommended to the SFBC for publication. All ICEP estimations regarding the possible current values of the identified accounts are based on assumptions and projections. There is also no evidence that accounts closed by unknown persons have been paid out to unauthorized parties.

However, the ICEP has identified at least 1,200 accounts which were owned by Holocaust victims.

The ICEP has commended the Swiss banks for their handling of Holocaust victims' unclaimed assets. It has found that there has been:

  • no deliberate discrimination against the unclaimed assets of Holocaust victims;

  • no misappropriation of the funds of holocaust victims; and

  • no systematic destruction of files to thwart claims for assets belonging to Holocaust victims or to conceal earlier misconduct.

It also stated that the Swiss banks complied with their legal duties to keep files in safe custody, and generally made a good effort to cooperate with the ICEP and the auditors.

Both the SFBC and the ICEP have held that the few cases in which banks did not conduct themselves properly were partly due to an insufficient regulatory framework for handling cases concerning unclaimed assets. Each claims that this supports a federal law project in this area.

The SFBC has also welcomed the revised Swiss Bankers Association guidelines on handling unclaimed accounts, custody accounts and safe-deposit boxes, which will take effect next year.

For further information on this topic please contact Thomas Keller or Guy-Philippe Rubeli at Pestalozzi Lachenal Patry's Geneva office by telephone(+41 22 80 94 500) or by fax (+41 22 80 94 501) or by e-mail ([email protected] or [email protected]). Alternatively, contact Robert Furter at Pestalozzi Lachenal Patry's Zurich office by telephone (+41 1 217 91 11) or by fax (+41 1 217 92 17) or by e-mail ([email protected]).

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