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Swiss bank defends WWII gold-buying policy

SHARE Swiss bank defends WWII gold-buying policy

Switzerland's central bank, criticized for buying Nazi gold during World War II, defended the policy on Thursday as having preserved stability in the small neutral country while war raged around it.

The Swiss National Bank acknowledged that its wartime governors deserved some of the criticism leveled in a report last month by international historians, who said the bank knew gold it was buying from Hitler's Germany might have been looted.But the SNB again ruled out joining negotiations among Jewish groups, Holocaust victims and Swiss banks on settling Holocaust-era claims and vowed to fight any attempt to put the central bank in the dock in U.S. courts over the issue.

"It (the governing board) did not show enough sensitivity to the moral dimension of a possible acquisition of stolen goods," SNB Vice-Chairman Jean-Pierre Roth told a news conference.

But Roth said the historians' report, commissioned by the Swiss government, had shortcomings because it did not include an in-depth analysis of wartime Swiss economic policies.

"The report does not enter into the question of whether the National Bank could have chosen another course of action ensuring monetary stability - an element of Switzerland's defense capacity," Roth said.

The SNB bought gold from Nazi Germany's Reichsbank in order to maintain a steady currency by upholding the gold standard backing the Swiss franc, he said.

"By maintaining the convertibility of the Swiss franc into gold, the National Bank did not pursue its policy simply as a simple matter of routine," Roth said.

"Rather, it tried to secure the country's monetary solvency and stability in an extremely unstable situation," Roth said.

"They (SNB governors) were very afraid at the start of the war that the Swiss franc would be a weak currency, that there would be capital flight out of the country," he told reporters later.

After the United States in 1941 froze continental European assets, including Swiss gold reserves in New York, Germany was Switzerland's only source of gold needed to pay for imports, Roth added.

Last month's study by a panel headed by Swiss historian Jean-Francois Bergier confirmed that Switzerland was the leading center of Nazi German gold transactions abroad and that the SNB was the biggest client.