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Swiss banks may offer $1 billion to settle claims

SHARE Swiss banks may offer $1 billion to settle claims

Switzerland's three major banks met Friday with lawyers for Holocaust survivors amid reports the banks would offer more than $1 billion to settle claims they stole assets from dormant wartime accounts.

Negotiators for Credit Suisse, the Union Bank of Switzerland and the Swiss Bank Corp. spent much of the day trying to settle claims by the victims and their heirs.A source close to the negotiations told The Associated Press the banks were expected to offer more than $1 billion.

Stuart Eizenstat, the Clinton administration's representative to the negotiations, contacted the plaintiffs' lawyers Thursday to tell them of the pending offer, the source said.

Jewish groups estimate the banks still hold billions of dollars in dormant wartime accounts. Edward Fagan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the reported offer might not satisfy some claimants.

"A billion dollars is not enough," he said.

However, in Zurich, a spokesman for the Credit Suisse Group denied the settlement reports.

"The negotiations are in progress," spokesman Paul Rhyn said. "We already said in April that we are in a phase where we can start talking about figures."

Jim Desler, a spokesman for Eizenstat, would not comment.

Jeff Taufield, a spokesman for the three banks in New York, also refused to comment on reports of an offer, which first appeared in The New York Times.

Tens of thousands of Holocaust victims deposited money in Swiss banks as the Nazis gained power in Europe. But plaintiffs say bank officials stonewalled survivors and their heirs after World War II, saying they could not find accounts or demanding nonexistent death certificates before giving funds to relatives of those who died in concentration camps.

On Thursday, the New York State Banking Board voted to allow the Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corp. to combine their New York operations.