Credit Suisse faulted over probe into Nazi-linked accounts

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US lawmakers have accused embattled Swiss bank Credit Suisse of limiting the scope of an internal investigation into Nazi clients and Nazi-linked accounts, including some that were open until just a few years ago.

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The Senate Budget Committee says an independent ombudsman initially brought in by the bank to oversee the probe was “inexplicably terminated” as he carried out his work, and it faulted “incomplete” reports that were hindered by restrictions.

Credit Suisse said it was “fully cooperating” with the committee's inquiry but rejected some claims from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group, that brought to light in 2020 allegations of possible Nazi-linked accounts at Switzerland’s second-largest bank.

Despite the hurdles, reports from the ombudsman and a forensic research team revealed at least 99 accounts credibly tied to senior Nazi officials in Germany or members of Nazi-affiliated groups in Argentina, most of which were not previously disclosed, the committee said Tuesday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The reports “raise new questions about the bank’s potential support for Nazis fleeing justice following World War II via so-called ‘Ratlines,” the committee said, referring to a network of escape routes used by Nazis after the war.

The committee said Credit Suisse “has pledged to continue its own investigation into remaining unanswered questions.”

“When it comes to investigating Nazi matters, righteous justice demands that we must leave no stone unturned. Credit Suisse has thus far failed to meet that standard,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican member of the panel.

The budget committee is “leaving no stone unturned when it comes to investigating Nazis and seeking justice for Holocaust survivors and their families, and we commit to seeing this investigation through,” said Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island.

Credit Suisse launched the internal investigation after the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named for the Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, said it had information that the bank held potential Nazi-linked accounts that had not previously been revealed, including during a series of Holocaust-related investigations of the 1990s.

Late that decade, Swiss banks agreed to pay some $1.25 billion to Nazi victims and their families who accused the banks of stealing, hiding or sending to the Nazis hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Jewish holdings.

Credit Suisse said its two-year investigation into the questions raised by the Simon Wiesenthal Center found “no evidence” to support the allegations “that many people on an Argentine list of 12,000 names had accounts at Schweizerische Kreditanstalt” — the predecessor of Credit Suisse — during the Nazi era.

It said the investigation “fundamentally confirms existing research on Credit Suisse’s history published in the context of the 1999 Global Settlement that provided binding closure for the Swiss banks regarding all issues relating to World War II.”

The latest findings come as problems have boiled over for Credit Suisse, a pillar of Swiss banking whose origins date to 1856, culminating in a government-orchestrated takeover by rival lender UBS.

The emergency rescue last month came after years of stock price declines, a string of scandals and the flight of depositors worried about Credit Suisse’s future amid global financial turmoil stirred by the collapse of two US banks.

Its troubles haven’t ended with the rescue. The US Senate Finance Committee said last month that a two-year investigation showed that Credit Suisse violated a plea agreement with US authorities by failing to report secret offshore accounts that wealthy Americans used to avoid paying taxes.

In the latest Senate findings, 70 Credit Suisse accounts with plausible links to Nazis in Argentina were opened after 1945 and at least 14 stayed open until the 2000s, including some as recently as 2020, according to the investigators’ reports.

Forensic research firm AlixPartners Ltd. found that 21 accounts — including 12 opened after 1945 — had credible connections with those on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of senior Nazi officials. They include an SS commander convicted at the Nuremberg trials as well as a Nazi commander who was tried, sentenced and released and whose account was not closed until 2002.

Others include German businessmen, scientists and another Nazi commander who were all either tried and acquitted or imprisoned and released.

The Senate committee, which oversees budget requests related to the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, issued a subpoena for the reports after new leadership at Credit Suisse paused its internal investigation last year.

Neil Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor and special inspector general of the US Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out banks following the 2008 financial crisis, was let go as ombudsman overseeing the probe months later.

“Credit Suisse’s decision to terminate oversight risks reputational damage based on the inevitable speculation as to what else may have been found or could have been found if the investigation and oversight were allowed to continue,” Barofsky’s report said.

It says the Swiss lender “did not review and investigate all relevant records" — including, for example, failing to complete a search on whether Nazi heirs tried to access bank accounts.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said removing Barofsky eroded its “confidence in a fair, independent and transparent historical review.”

“The actions taken today by the US Senate Committee on the Budget shine light on a dark and troubling past that has remained outside the historical record,” the organization said Tuesday.

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