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 Posted Sunday, June 6, 1999

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Reuters Report

U.S. lawyers' bill in Holocaust pact $25 million

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, June 2 (Reuters) - Several private U.S. lawyers have told a federal court they want $25 million in fees and expenses from the accord Swiss banks reached with Holocaust victims to settle 50-year-old charges that the banks blocked survivors from withdrawing their funds, a Jewish group said on Wednesday.

"Some, not all, indicated they wished to receive legal fees, they indicated they wished to receive 2 percent of the $1.25 billion," Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters.

Steinberg was referring to lawyers representing Holocaust victims in huge class-action lawsuits brought against the banks -- legal actions that helped push the financial institutions into reaching the historic accord.

Two of Switzerland's biggest banks, UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group, in August 1998 hammered out a $1.25 billion pact with Holocaust victims to end claims that after the Second World War the banks exploited secrecy rules to retain gold, bank accounts and other assets.

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman, who is supervising the accord, set a "fairness" hearing for Nov. 29 for participants and interested parties to discuss the allocation of the $1.25 billion, as well the lawyers' fees.

Several of the U.S. lawyers who took on the Swiss banks agreed to work on a pro bono basis. But the issue of legal fees for other attorneys already has proved contentious, and the final decision, to be made by Korman, will be closely watched.

Several of the same lawyers who worked on the Swiss accord also have filed big suits against French and German firms.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said he was not opposed to awarding legal fees, provided they were not exorbitant.

"I would say that the lawyers are entitled to a fee; it would be great if they could all do it pro bono, but that's unrealistic," he said.

The amount that individual Holocaust victims will receive under the pact has not yet been decided. One plan calls for giving the lion's share of the money to about 400,000 Holocaust survivors who are scattered around the globe. That might provide $10,000 or so for each of them, said a source close to the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Payments will not be limited to people whose families deposited assets with Swiss banks for safekeeping before the Second World War. Instead, survivors whose assets were looted by the Nazis in other countries but ended up in Switzerland will also be eligible.

Forced laborers and slave laborers also will qualify for payments if Swiss companies benefited from their toil.

Another category of potential beneficiaries is refugees who were turned back at Switzerland's borders, Steinberg said. He said some money would also be earmarked for social services.

While it was hoped at first that funds would begin flowing to Holocaust victims, many of whom are elderly, as soon as late 1998, the first payments now appear likely to start in 2000, officials said.

Our opinion
  THIS is really great news for the New York legal profession in their heroic and selfless battle against the ruthless, greedy, and grasping Swiss bankers, and we congratulate these outstanding citizens for their unselfish and unswerving dedication to the people they hold most dear in their hearts (themselves).

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© Focal Point 1999 e-mail:  write to David Irving