Two-Year Probe Doesn't Validate Simon Wiesenthal Center's Claims – Credit Suisse

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 19 April 2023

Two-Year Probe Doesn't Validate Simon Wiesenthal Center's Claims – Credit Suisse

The bank gave a detailed statement yesterday about a probe it commissioned into claims about Nazi-era accounts. It said the probe did not prove that claims from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre – which pursues investigations about the Holocaust and Nazi crimes – were justified. The SWC said it continued to seek answers, as does the US Senate.

Credit Suisse, in the throes of being taken over by UBS, yesterday said that a two-year probe into Argentine data hasn’t found evidence to support claims from the Simon Wiesenthal Center that eight of the lender’s predecessor bank accounts from the period - long since closed - held assets taken from Holocaust victims.
The story highlights how claims that Swiss banks held money stolen from European Jews continues to cause controversy. Several decades ago, complaints about the country’s banking system started to cause the first serious criticisms of its bank secrecy regime. 

The SWC, which is based in Los Angeles, had raised questions about individuals on an Argentine list of 12,000 names with accounts at Schweizerische Kreditanstalt (SKA), Credit Suisse’s predecessor bank, during the Nazi period, according to a statement from Credit Suisse yesterday. 

“The investigation also found no evidence that eight long-closed accounts identified in this period contained assets from any Holocaust victims. In addition, the bank's investigation fundamentally confirms existing research on Credit Suisse’s history published in the context of the 1999 Global Settlement that provided binding closure for the Swiss banks regarding all issues relating to World War II,” it said. 

“Credit Suisse has invited the SWC to meet with them and AlixPartners to present the findings of the investigation,” the bank said.

In Washington DC, lawmakers on the Senate Committee on The Budget weighed in on the matter yesterday. 

The US Senate committee said: "Multiple reports shine a new light on Credit Suisse’s historical servicing of Nazi clients and Nazi-linked accounts, which in some cases continued until as recently as 2020. The reports, released by the Senate Budget Committee on Holocaust Remembrance Day, detail a multi-year internal investigation by a forensic research firm retained by Credit Suisse and initially overseen by an independent ombudsperson who was inexplicably terminated by the bank during the course of the review. While the resulting reports are incomplete and were hampered by scoping restrictions, they nonetheless reveal nearly 100 previously undisclosed Nazi-linked accounts and related information, and they raise new questions about the bank’s potential support for Nazis fleeing justice following World War II via so-called `Ratlines'."

SWC statement
The Center gave the following statement on the case: "Beginning in March 2020, we invited Credit Suisse to review our findings related to the Nazi Assets investigation. In response, the bank made a commitment to investigate and confront this hidden and troubling past. As a critical part of that commitment, Credit Suisse hired an independent ombudsperson and an independent advisor possessing extensive credentials and the highest integrity to assure the accuracy, transparency, and independence of this historically significant investigation. The investigative plan was approved and executed by the most senior executives of Credit Suisse AG and relied upon by SWC."

"At the request of the bank, SWC worked with the independent ombudsperson team to communicate all relevant facts and information relating to the Nazi Assets. However, after more than one year working with SWC and significant progress, the independent ombudsperson and independent advisor were removed by Credit Suisse. This decision eroded SWC’s confidence in a fair, independent, and transparent historical review, especially if the remaining work is completed by any entity with significant ties to Credit Suisse.

SWC looks forward to reviewing the report of the independent ombudsman in whom SWC and Credit Suisse reposed trust to find and report historical truth," it said.

The Center added that it welcomed actions taken yesterday by the US Senate Committee on the Budget, which it said shone a "light on a dark and troubling past that has remained outside the historical record." "SWC is grateful for the decision of the Members of the Committee to inform the public of this history. We wish to especially thank chairman Whitehouse (D-RI) and ranking member Grassley (R-IA) whose bipartisan leadership offers hope for full and final accountability from all who supported the Nazi regime during and after the Second World War." 

The investigation
In March 2020, the SWC asked Credit Suisse to investigate a list of members of the Unión Alemana de Gremios (UAG), a Nazi-affiliated Argentine labour organisation, claiming that “many” of the names on that list had accounts at SKA. Credit Suisse said in a statement that it voluntarily engaged one of the world’s leading forensic investigative firms, AlixPartners, to investigate the claims.

In addition to investigating the UAG list compiled by an Argentine parliamentary commission in 1941, AlixPartners also searched the bank’s archives for the names of the members of the Argentine Nazi Party, as listed by the US government in 1946, and conducted searches of additional names about which the SWC inquired, the bank’s statement continued. 

“For a period of more than two years, a team of up to 50 AlixPartners professionals spent more than 50,000 hours investigating the matter, using the bank’s archives and databases containing information on millions of historical Credit Suisse accounts. During the course of the investigation, AlixPartners applied state-of-the-art technology and manually reviewed 480,000 documents, and collected substantial evidence from external sources,” it said. 

Credit Suisse said AlixPartners determined that the list of about 12,000 members of the UAG labour organisation provided by the SWC in fact referred to 8,951 unique individuals, excluding duplicates. 

The bank said that, at the time, individuals who sought work with German companies in Argentina were effectively required to join the UAG. “Notably, the UAG list does not mention SKA or Credit Suisse and it does not contain any bank account information,” it said. 

“AlixPartners examined the names on the UAG list and the 1,373 names on the US government’s list against the relevant databases of Credit Suisse, including databases of dormant, closed and numbered accounts at SKA dating back to the early 1930s; as well as against the Arthur Andersen archive preserved from the 1990s investigation of the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons, headed by former US Federal Reserve Board chairman, Paul A Volcker, that contains a comprehensive database of all available bank accounts from the Nazi period,” it said. 

“After a review of plausible matches, AlixPartners identified eight individuals named on the Argentine lists who likely had an account relationship with SKA in the relevant period between 1933 and 1945. Seven of these relationships were closed by 1937, and only one relationship existed during World War II with a member of the UAG who had emigrated to Argentina in the 1920s. This individual was not on the US government’s list of Argentine Nazi party members at any stage,” the bank continued. 

AlixPartners also identified 70 closed accounts matching the Argentine lists that were opened years and, in many cases, decades after the end of World War II. Credit Suisse said these accounts are not relevant to the context of the issues raised by the SWC.

The banks said that in addition to the Argentine lists, AlixPartners also examined other questions including a list of 311 senior Nazis that the SWC had sent to the President of Switzerland 25 years ago. In the 1990s, Credit Suisse’s historian, Prof Joseph Jung, and the Independent Commission of Experts Switzerland – World War II ("Bergier Commission”) had analysed this same list and identified an additional eight persons with SKA accounts between 1933 and 1945. In addition to these previously published findings, AlixPartners – with the help of phonetic name-matching technology not available at the time — identified one additional account in the period that was closed in March 1933. 

The bank said it has engaged the law firm Clifford Chance, with the assistance of KPMG Switzerland, to review the findings of the AlixPartners investigation, as a replacement for the former ombudsperson that the bank had previously retained. 

US Senate comments
Chuck Grassley (Republican), a ranking Senate member, said of the matter: “When it comes to investigating Nazi matters, righteous justice demands that we must leave no stone unturned. Credit Suisse has thus far failed to meet that standard. While Credit Suisse initially agreed to investigate evidence of previously unidentified Nazi-linked accounts as a result of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s relentless pursuit of justice, the information we’ve obtained shows the bank established an unnecessarily rigid and narrow scope, and refused to follow new leads uncovered during the course of the review. Its removal of an independent ombudsperson and insistence on redacting portions of his report as well as its initial refusal to pursue leads on accounts that may be associated with Nazi ratlines is no way to conduct a thorough and complete investigation. Now that the bank has pledged to continue investigating as a result of our oversight, we’ll keep a close eye on its thoroughness going forward. Holocaust survivors and their families deserve nothing less,” Grassley said.

The Senate committee report on the matter yesterday said: "Credit Suisse appears to have maintained accounts, the vast majority of which have not previously been disclosed, for at least 99 individuals who were either senior Nazi officials in Germany or members of Nazi-affiliated groups in Argentina. Seventy Argentine accounts with plausible links to Argentina-based Nazis were opened with Credit Suisse after 1945, and at least 14 of those accounts remained open into the 21st century – some even as recently as 2020."

"AlixPartners identified 21 accounts from a list of notorious high-level Nazis provided by SWC, including one that belonged to a Nazi commander who was sentenced at Nuremberg and another belonging to an SS commander who was convicted. The sentenced commander’s account remained open until 2002, but the bank has not yet provided asset information from this account or from 85 other identified accounts. The bank maintained accounts belonging to a German executive who was tried and acquitted at Nuremberg and a Nazi scientist who was imprisoned throughout the Nuremberg trials, among other accounts the bank had not previously discovered. A senior SS officer and representative for Nazi company Deutsche Wirtschaftsbetriebe GmbH (DWB) held an account at the bank," the committee said.

The 1999 settlement
Between 1996 and 2000, significant efforts were made to reassess the history of Switzerland and its banks during the World War II era. In addition to the Bergier Commission, which published its findings in a final report and in 25 separate studies with around 10,000 pages, the Volcker Committee searched for assets of victims of Nazi persecution. Credit Suisse was the only major Swiss bank to publish the results of its research in an 800-page study in 2001.

A settlement was reached in 1999 under the auspices of US District Judge Edward R Korman to compensate Holocaust victims and their heirs. It was to provide a comprehensive end to the controversy concerning Swiss banks and the World War II era, and a complete and binding closure for all the parties concerned. 

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