Volkswagen approved a $12 million fund Friday to compensate former slave laborers forced by the Nazis to work for the company during World War II.
The automaker, which is facing lawsuits in the United States and threats of others elsewhere, said it was "morally called upon" to "provide humanitarian relief" to former forced laborers. But it added that it believed it was under no legal obligation to do so.The first payments from the fund, to be administered by the accounting firm KPMG, will be made before the end of the year, the company said in a statement.
Spokesman Klaus Kocks said former Israeli Prime Minister Shi-mon Peres is among those asked to help oversee the fund.
A New York lawyer involved in one lawsuit against the automaker said shortly before the announcement that an offer of "humanitarian aid" to survivors would not be enough to fend off legal action.
Lawyer Ed Fagan said VW should provide a list of slave laborers who worked in the plants and acknowledge a legal debt to them.
"What they keep doing is trying to confuse charity with a legal obligation," said Fagan, who was traveling in Jerusalem. "These companies have a legal obligation to pay the slaves they abused and killed.
"Without producing those lists there is no settlement and there is no agreement, and we will continue to attack them and make them pay in an American court," he said.
An estimated 17,000 forced laborers worked at Volkswagen between 1941 and the end of the war.
Like many German companies, Volkswagen maintains it has no legal obligation to compensate former slave laborers, arguing they were forced on it by the Nazis.
But VW broke ranks with the bulk of German industry in July by announcing it would set up a fund to give humanitarian aid to survivors.
The automaker's supervisory board approved the details Friday.
A statement issued after the meeting said Volkswagen is working on setting up a council to determine the amount of individual payments.