Monday, April 25, 2005 at 11:08 AM

The Belated Conversion of Hitler’s Swiss Bankers

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

In the late 1990s, the banking secrets that protected Switzerland’s national criminal enterprise were finally exposed. Joint investigations by US authorities and the World Jewish Congress uncovered documents verifying claims by Holocaust survivors that Swiss banks were holding and benefiting from billions of dollars in assets that they were entitled to – claims that Swiss authorities had vehemently denied for decades. (Former Swiss President Jean-Pascal Delamuraz even feigned indignation at the very notion of these claims by dismissing the survivors as congenital “blackmailers and extortionists”.)

Nazi Dr Fritz Klein, prospecting for gold amongst dead bodies at a Jewish concentration camp. Indeed, gold was plucked from the mouths of Jews and deposited into the banks of Switzerland…

Indeed, despite a mountain of evidence to rival the Alps, the Swiss government not only persisted in its denials but also defied good faith by announcing an internal investigation which found only about $8,000 in dormant accounts – as opposed to the billions being claimed by the survivors. All of that changed, however, after bank security guard Christophe Meili alerted Jewish investigators that officials from the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) were busy shredding documents related to those claims. In fact, this revelation coupled with the US government’s threat of sanctions made Swiss authorities extremely solicitous of settling the claims and putting this national embarrassment behind them.

But they were quickly disabused of any hope that settling would appease and quiet their critics. Because, in addition to exposing their shredding caper, investigators began revealing some of the more sinister secrets about Swiss banking: including disclosures about train loads of gold that the Nazis systematically looted from banks and private homes all over Europe (and even from the mouths Holocaust victims) and deposited into the vaults of Swiss banks – with the knowledge and complicity of Swiss authorities.

More to the point, however, investigators revealed that – to ingratiate themselves with their preferred Nazi customers – Swiss bankers routinely violated the terms of accounts held by Jews by simply informing them that “The situation has changed”. The bankers then “aryanized” those accounts by selling them to Nazi sympathizers at a fraction of their value. No doubt records of these fraudulent transactions (among others) are what the bankers were shredding so anxiously.

I recommend this book by Adam Lebor for more detailed documentation of (Nazi inspired) crimes that were committed by the Swiss whilst professing Neutrality.

Exposed as Nazi collaborators, institutional fraudsters and congenital liars, the Swiss settled with the U.S. government and World Jewish Congress. The terms, in part, called for the Swiss to establish a $1.25 billion fund to compensate all Holocaust survivors. The global significance of this concession, however, cannot be overstated. Because it not only indicted Switzerland’s banking practices but also shattered its carefully cultivated acclaim of being a safe-harbor (of neutrality) as war raged in Europe during WWII.

Nevertheless, the admissions and restitution by the Swiss represented only partial atonement for their national sins. After all, it has been an open secret for decades that the Swiss were also the bankers of choice for sundry dictators, corporate swindlers, drug traffickers and mafia kingpins….

But, that was then:

Last week, Swiss authorities announced – with the zealotry of the newly converted – that Swiss banks will no longer be a safe haven for the ill-gotten gains of the international rogue’s gallery of criminals. And to demonstrate their belated conversion, Swiss authorities trumpeted the arrest of the son of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha on charges of fraud, criminal conspiracy and money laundering.

Nigerian Dictator Gen. Sani Abacha: Look! I only took what the Americans gave me…

Now, never mind that this might be a case where the sins of the father (and his erstwhile Swiss collaborators) are being visited upon the son. The fact remains that baby Abacha was doing his best to squander the $2.2 billion his Daddy stole from the Nigerian people from 1993 until he was assassinated in 1998. And, the Swiss have assured Nigerian authorities that they will return the assets in all accounts under Abacha’s name.

But it remains to be seen how far the Swiss will go to fulfill the obligations of restitution that are required to complete their conversion. After all, almost every country in the world can use the exploits of Abacha of Nigeria as precedent to file similar claims:

For example, claims can derive from the corrupt regimes of Bongo of Gabon; Mobutu Sese Seko of former Zaire; Duvalier of Haiti; Fujimori of Peru; Salinas of Mexico; Milosevic of former Yugoslavia; Koutsogiorgas of Greece; Yelstin’s oligarchs of Russia; Suharto of Indonesia et. al. And, when one factors in potential claims that could derive from the exploits of international criminal syndicates, the potential liabilities of Swiss banks become prohibitive.

Oh what a tangled (and often costly) web we weave when at first we practice to deceive….

Note: Does anyone know what happened to Christophe Meile after he betrayed the shredding secrets of the Swiss banks that forced Switzerland off the easy road to perdition and onto this difficult straight and narrow path towards national redemption?

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