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Western Press Review: Swiss Bank Disclosures Reveal Bankers' Stains

By Ron Synovitz and Aurora Gallego

Prague, 25 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspapers are continuing to comment on the release by Swiss bankers of a list of dormant accounts originally opened by Holocaust victims. The global ramifications of the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas Corp. also are a subject of press commentary.

WASHINGTON POST: Switzerland was a massive hockshop for desperate Jews

Columnist Richard Cohen says today that the 2,000 names of dormant account holders released by the Swiss Bankers Association this week confirms that Switzerland profited enormously from the Holocaust. Cohen writes: "The Swiss have discovered to their chagrin and dismay that the World War II-era has not yet ended. Their little country, all mountain and myth, turns out not to have been the storied redoubt of decency in wartime Europe but a massive hockshop where desperate Jews deposited their wealth in secret accounts that were, it is now clear, conveniently forgotten. The Swiss had little interest in paying interest -- only in paying off the Nazis."

But Cohen stresses that the Swiss were not alone. He says: "The Portuguese made money on the war and so did Spain and Sweden. The role of the United States, the government as well as financial institutions, is not yet clear, and now there is additional reason to wonder about the Vatican. Whatever the case, it is clear that the history of World War II and the Holocaust is still being written. There is justice to be done, victims to be compensated (if possible), heirs who deserve to get what they should have coming and, most poignant perhaps, Holocaust survivors in the old Iron Curtain countries who will now for the first time get help. (But) the search is only incidentally for the guilty or for some lost funds. It is, fundamentally, a search for the truth."

Cohen concludes: "The Swiss, understandably, are growing resentful, but they have fessed up slowly and only under pressure -- one generation troubled at having to acknowledge what it did, another troubled by what was done. There is, though, one more list to be published, and that is one we shall never see: the names of ordinary Swiss, otherwise good people, who shook hands with evil and thought that time would wash away the stain. Not so. The stain will survive the hand."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The adjective for these years of indifference -- mean

Alan Cowell writes an analysis from Zurich in today's edition saying that the Swiss list has become a public relations disaster for the country's financial institutions. Cowell says: "By displaying what (the bankers) called 'sincerity and transparency,' the Swiss banks are hoping to restore confidence and protect business interests threatened by criticism of their actions as callous and unworthy, particularly toward Holocaust survivors. But the very publication of evidence that so many accounts languished for so long after the end of World War II with no attempt to find their owners shows that their critics were absolutely right. The list evokes a somber and mysterious bygone era. Here are names of French aristocrats in Paris and titled Germans listed as resident in Vukovar, businesses in Bucharest and Shanghai, echoes of a world darkening with war in which many sought to hide assets from the Nazis, not even daring to speak openly in front of their families about Swiss deposits."

Cowell goes on to quote Juerg Schoch, a commentator at the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, who wrote yesterday: "There is only one word for these years of indifference to the victims: mean."

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: The list does not name the banks' black sheep

Switzerland's conservative paper also condemns the actions of Swiss bankers. An editorial in that newspaper says that with publication of the list, "the anyhow damaged reputation of the banking community, and also of the entire Swiss financial establishment, has been done a further unnecessary disservice. As long as the black sheep of the banks are not also named on a list, efforts at damage control will be a sisyphean task."

HEARST NEWSPAPERS: Swiss officials are reluctant to come clean

Bernard Kaplan, a syndicated columnist, predicts that the fresh disclosures by Swiss bankers is only the beginning of revelations about Holocaust victims' accounts. Kaplan says the new list "contradicts repeated Swiss claims that identifying such depositors after so many years was impossible. At the same time, it is hard to believe that a much larger number of people who later perished in Nazi-occupied Europe did not deposit money in neutral Switzerland for safe-keeping. Millions of European Jews had plenty of warning between Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and the outbreak of war six years later that their property, if not their lives, was in serious danger. Switzerland's long history of keeping out of Europe's conflicts made it the obvious haven. Many must have sent money there." Kaplan concludes: "Swiss officials have shown themselves reluctant to come clean in this matter, not only because they obviously have much they would prefer to forget, but because their prosperity for nearly a century has been built around banking secrecy."

DER BUND: A telephone call would have been sufficient to find the owner of a dormant account

An editorial published in the paper in the Swiss capital Berne adds to the criticism of the Swiss Bankers Association and the way it has handled the issue of dormant Holocaust accounts. The newspaper writes: "Since yesterday, it has become clear that in many cases a telephone call would have been sufficient to find the owner of a dormant account." It says: "After the embarrassing situations Switzerland has put itself in, more accusations from abroad are to be expected. Among them some will be unfair or even have nothing to do with the situation -- especially considering that all the other countries have taken the money from the dormant accounts a long time ago. Still, in the present situation it is shocking to hear the Bankers Association president Georg Krayer praise the Swiss banking system as 'a model for the best.' In ears of the Jewish petitioners, it sounds as a mockery because of the circumstances."

Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger

WASHINGTON POST/INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: International rules for a new globalized economy are being created

An editorial republished in today's "Tribune" examines the international political manuevers behind the European Commission's approval of the Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger. The newspaper says: "Both companies are American, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission gave its approval three weeks ago. Who asked the European Union for its opinion anyway? Welcome to a world of blurring sovereignty and transnational regulation. National economies are more and more intertwined, while big corporations are less and less rooted in any single country. Set your tax too high, and a company will pick up and move."

The editorial goes on to point out hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. House of Representatives for warning Europe against 'an unwarranted and unprecedented interference in a United States business transaction'." The newspaper says: "In fact, the United States does more interfering than any other country. Congress has passed legislation that seeks to punish European companies doing business in Iran, Libya or Cuba. Cities and states are refusing to do business with European companies that, to take one example, do business with Burma."

The editorial concludes: "Many of these 'unwarranted and unprecedented interferences' -- in all directions -- represent early steps toward international rules for a new globalized economy. It is only natural that what was once considered purely national will enter the international arena -- not only anti-trust and competition law but also labor rights, corruption, environmental standards, accounting rules and much more. International rules will protect every country but also require every country to give up some sovereign control. You can expect plenty of controversy as nations seek the right balance."