Switzerland's three biggest commercial banks said Friday they are prepared to offer a maximum of $600 million in a global settlement of claims by Holocaust victims.
The announcement by Credit Suisse, Swiss Bank Corp. and Union Bank of Switzerland marked the first time the banks have specified a figure for a possible settlement.The $600 million, they said, would include $70 million already paid into a fund to help needy Holocaust survivors.
"By all legitimate criteria, this is a fair offer," the banks said in their joint statement.
Jewish groups, which have estimated the banks still hold billions of dollars in dormant wartime accounts, were outraged.
"The Swiss banks know that the amounts they are discussing are offensive, and if we were not dealing with such a tragic story, this would be laughable," Yoram Dori, an Israeli spokesman for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said in Jerusalem.
The New York-based group tries to ensure that property and money lost or looted during World War II is returned to Jews.
Edward Fagan, a lawyer for the claimants, said Friday in New York: "My 31,000 clients will not stand for this."
"The problem is the banks' refusal to allow their sacrosanct, supposedly transparent process . . . to be open to public scrutiny," he said.
"This isn't about justice. This is about protecting the banks' bottom line and their cozy jobs at the expense of Holocaust victims."
Still, Fagan said he's prepared to negotiate.
The three Swiss banks urged the plaintiffs to accept the offer "so that money can immediately be distributed to Holocaust survivors and heirs of Holocaust victims."
However, the statement warned that through repeated violations of a court-ordered confidentiality agreement, "the World Jewish Congress and the plaintiffs' lawyers are seriously jeopardizing the settlement negotiations."
Fagan angrily denied the accusation.
Credit Suisse, Swiss Bank Corp. and Union Bank of Switzerland are negotiating with Jewish organizations and lawyers for class-action claimants on a settlement.
They met June 5 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.
Fagan had said even $1 billion might not satisfy some claimants.
Tens of thousands of Holocaust victims deposited money in Swiss banks when the Nazis were gaining power in Europe.