Mr. Chairman, I commend you for holding this hearing today. The unclaimed assets of Holocaust victims deposited in Swiss Banks and, in particular, the circumstances surrounding the shredding of potentially significant documents by the United Bank of Switzerland. This is the third hearing the Chairman has held on the issues of unclaimed assets and of the gold transactions between the Swiss National Bank and the German Reichsbank. Swiss Banks may have received up to 500 million Swiss francs in looted gold from holocaust victims.
Mr. Chairman, your work in this areas is extraordinary and has brought about dramatic actions that would not have taken place except for your persistence.
The Swiss government has taken a number of steps to restore public confidence in their banking system including the establishment of an independent commission headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker. Also, last December the Swiss government passed a Federal resolution forbidding Swiss banks from destroying documents which could shed light on the whereabouts of assets of Holocaust victims confiscated during World War II (1939-1945).
Today's hearing will focus on this issue of destroying documents that could facilitate the return of assets to Holocaust victims and their relatives. It would appear that the United Bank of Switzerland was violating that law when Mr. Meili [a security guard] discovered bank employees shredding documents.
It would appear to me that Mr. Meili deserves credit for doing his civic duty. But instead, he was fired from his job. This does not reflect well on the United Bank of Switzerland for taking this action or the government of Switzerland for condoning it.
While at this time it is unclear exactly what these documents are or whether the bank was violating the law, the way Mr. Meili was treated will not build trust around the world that the Swiss are, in fact, cooperating to right one of the greatest injustices ever performed in the history of mankind.
I understand that the bank is referring to the shredding as a "regrettable error." if they are admitting the shredding is an error, I am puzzled by their treatment of Mr. Meili. It seems to me the bank should be less concerned about Mr. Meili's possible violation of the bank secrecy act and more concerned with finding out why documents were being shredded in apparent violation of Swiss law.
I understand there is an investigation going on regarding the shredding and I hope the Chairman will keep us abreast of whatever finding the Swiss authorities come up with. I hope the Chairman will conduct another hearing when Commerce Under-Secretary Stu Eizenstat completes his review of all U.S. records to help identify, retrieve and disburse property confiscated during the war.
Again, I commend the Chairman for holding this hearing and all the work he has done to bring about some justice to those who have suffered tremendously. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Meili and our other witnesses.
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