lawyers' bill in Holocaust pact $25
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,
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
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
"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,"
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