English News Archive

News between January 12th and January 6th, 1999, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For other News look into our News Archive.


January 12, 1999:

January 11, 1999:

January 10, 1999:

January 09, 1999:

January 08, 1999:

January 07, 1999:

January 06, 1999:


Allianzunits named in new Holocaust lawsuit
01:14 p.m Jan 06, 1999 Eastern

MUNICH, Germany, Jan 6 (Reuters) - German insurer Allianz AG

said on Wednesday that five of its subsidiaries had been named in a second class-action lawsuit filed in New York by Jewish victims of the Nazis during World War Two.

Four of these subsidiaries had already been named in a separate suit filed in 1997 by Holocaust survivors, alleging that some 16 European insurance firms refused to pay beneficiaries of life insurance policies held by Nazi victims.

Allianz spokesman Emilio Galli-Zugaro told Reuters on Wednesday that the second suit was filed by 10 claimants and their lawyers against 27 insurance companies from Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Britain and the U.S.

He said no specific financial details were included in the suit and that Allianz felt any claim could be settled more quickly out of court.

``Every legitimate (policy) claim has been paid out and will be paid out,'' Galli-Zugaro said.

He said Allianz and five other major European insurers would contribute $90 million by the middle of this year to a fund overseen by an international commission which includes Jewish groups and the U.S. insurance commissioners.

Galli-Zugaro said Allianz's telephone hotline service, set up about two years ago for victims and their descendants in Europe, Israel and the United States, had so far received 2,500 calls.

The hotline aims to identify valid insurance claims where Allianz failed to offer compensation.

Allianz has always insisted most insurance claims from the Nazi era have already been paid.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Lithuania court wants medical exam of Nazi suspect
06:06 a.m. Jan 06, 1999 Eastern

By Jonathan Leff

VILNIUS, Jan 6 (Reuters) - A Lithuanian court called on Wednesday for a medical examination of 90-year-old Nazi-era war crimes suspect and former U.S. citizen Kazys Gimzhauskas, setting his trial back by as much as a month.

Gimzhauskas, a former Florida resident who returned to Lithuania in 1993, is accused of handing over five Jews to Nazi death squads when he was an official in the Vilnius region security police during Germany's World War Two occupation of the Baltic state.

The trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday, but his lawyer said the defendant was too ill to attend.

A previous examination just over one year ago found that Gimzhauskas was suffering from various heart and circulatory ailments and that his health would be endangered by the stress of trial questioning.

Presiding Judge Viktoras Kazhys called for a second commission to determine whether he was fit to stand trial, but did not set a date for reconvening. Prosecutors said the process could take about a month.

The trial has thus far followed a pattern set by Gimzhauskas' wartime superior, Aleksandras Lileikis, who is also accused of assisting in the Holocaust. His case has been repeatedly delayed due to claims of fragile health.

Lileikis' first and only court appearance in November ended abruptly as he was rushed away in an ambulance complaining of heart pains. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday.

Critics have accused Lithuanian officials of intentionally delaying the cases, hoping the accused will die before facing trial, and Nazi-hunters on hand for the opening of Gimzhauskas' case expressed dismay at the ruling.

``The present situation is basically the result of the Lithuanian government's failure to take legal steps against Gimzhauskas immediately upon his arrival from the United States in 1993,'' Efraim Zuroff, head of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office, told Reuters.

``His role during World War Two was known and ultimately if he is not brought to trial the full responsibility of that failure lies with the Lithuanian government,'' he added.

Vilnius was one of three pre-war centres of Jewish cultural life. Over 90 percent of Lithuania's 220,000-strong pre-war Jewish community was murdered during the Holocaust.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Poland hopes to warm frosty ties with Israel
09:45 a.m. Jan 06, 1999 Eastern

WARSAW, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Poland hopes to improve strained ties with Israel during a visit by President Aleksander Kwasniewski to the Jewish state this weekend, a presidential adviser said on Wednesday.

Poland's cancellation of a large Israeli arms deal last year and the planting of crosses by radical Catholics in the shadow of the Auschwitz death camp have blighted relations between the two states.

``Considering how complicated and difficult relations have been between the two nations recently, the president will use this opportunity to promote Polish-Israeli relations,'' Marek Siwiec, a presidential foreign policy aide told Reuters.

Kwasniewski pays a two-day visit to Israel from Saturday at the invitation of the Shimon Peres Centre for Peace, established by the former Israeli Prime Minister to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe until World War Two when Nazi invaders set up death camps and killed all but 300,000 of the country's 3,500,000 Jews.

An anti-semitic pogrom in 1948 and a campaign to drive out Jewish intellectuals in 1968 forced many survivors to flee, leaving the country with only some 10,000 resident Jews.

After the defeat of communism in 1989 the democratic Polish authorities began to condemn past episodes of anti-semitism and sought strenuously to promote dialogue with Jewish groups.

But Jewish suspicions of Polish anti-semitism linger, fuelled by attacks on Jewish cemeteries, slow progress in restoring confiscated property and the government's inability to remove the crosses set up at Auschwitz.

Siwiec criticised the centre-right Polish government for using slow judicial means to remove the crosses, saying the leftist president supported solving the issue with a new law.

``We will make Jewish sensitivity a criteria of what is permitted in certain places. That's the way to solve the crosses problem,'' he said.

Jews regard the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, where some 1,500,000 died, as the largest cemetery of European Jewry and object to any religious symbols at the site.

Siwiec said the government would soon outline a law to compensate the descendents of Poles, including Jews living abroad, for property seized from their families by Nazis or communist authorities.

``But don't expect spectacular results. Jewish expectations are high and there is no way we can satisfy them, but we want to declare our goodwill and honesty,'' he said.

Kwasniewski will meet Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces a field of challengers for his job in early elections in May, and will go to the West Bank to talk with Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Swiss banks help computerise Holocaust victim names
06:44 a.m. Jan 06, 1999 Eastern

ZURICH, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Swiss banks said on Wednesday they would put up $4 million to help create a computerised list of millions of names of Holocaust victims in a bid to match dormant wealth to its rightful owners.

The Swiss Bankers Association agreed to split the cost of digitally capturing all of the 4.5 million names on the list of victims compiled by the Yad Vashem memorial site in Israel, association spokeswoman Silvia Matile said.

The World Jewish Congress will pay the other half of the job, which is only around one-third finished.

By entering the victims' names into computers, banks want to make it easier for independent auditors combing banks' books for unclaimed Holocaust-era accounts to match funds they find with possible owners who perished in the Nazi genocide, Matile said.

Banks agreed on the contribution ``so that we move forward, so that the whole audit can be driven forward quickly,'' she said.

She said it was still undecided whether association members would share the bill or would seek contributions from others as well.

The decision comes amid complaints from some regional banks that the costs of hunting for Holocaust-era accounts are out of all proportion to the sums being uncovered.

Banks and Jewish groups agreed in 1996 to put independent auditors to work after banks were accused of stonewalling victims' relatives seeking the return of family wealth.

Matile acknowledged some banks were not happy about the costs of the audit.

``But we must not lose sight of the goal, namely to create as much transparency as possible,'' she added. ``We have to seize this opportunity to create transparency so that no one can accuse us in future of not having resolved this.''

Auditors have already begun passing on their reports to an independent panel headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker that is overseeing the process.

``The hope is that the reports can be cleared up by the end of March and the final report can be completed by around the middle of the year,'' Matile said.

The Volcker commission has not yet said how much money auditors have found. Swiss banks' own search turned up around 80 million Swiss francs in all accounts that have been untouched since the end of World War Two, including those held by Swiss.

The commission's work is separate from a $1.25 billion settlement big Swiss banks agreed last August to pay to resolve U.S. class-action lawsuits and head off threatened boycotts by U.S. cities and states.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Lithuania trial of ex-US citizen still on hold
10:32 a.m. Jan 07, 1999 Eastern

VILNIUS, Jan 7 (Reuters) - The trial of alleged Nazi-era war criminal and former U.S. citizen Aleksandras Lileikis, the first Holocaust trial in a post-Soviet country, remained stalled after a brief session on Thursday.

Lileikis, a former Boston-area resident stripped of his U.S. passport in 1996, is accused of turning over 75 Jews to Nazi death squads when he headed the Vilnius region security police during Germany's occupation of Lithuania in World War Two.

The 91-year-old defendant maintains his innocence and his apparent poor health has figured in trial delays.

On Thursday, the prosecution asked for another medical examination to more clearly determine whether Lileikis was fit enough physically to stand trial, saying that the most recent exam was not specific enough.

``(Reading the text) one could understand that Lileikis can take part in a trial. On the other hand, (it says) every session causes him stress. This is the ambiguity that must be clarified,'' lead prosecutor Jonas Martinaitis told Reuters.

The court will rule on Friday whether to order another medical exam, which would be the fourth for Lileikis since his 1997 indictment.

Lileikis' first and only court appearance, in November, ended abruptly as he was rushed away in an ambulance complaining of heart pains. Under Lithuanian law, the trial is impossible without his presence.

``After the last session his health deteriorated significantly...and he is now unable even to stand,'' defence attourney Algirdas Matuiza told the court.

Matuiza also requested the court call as a witness a woman he claims would testify that Lileikis helped save the lives of several Jews, although Nazi-hunters have said this pales in comparison to the scores he may have sent to death.

The same Vilnius court on Wednesday called for a repeated medical exam of 90-year-old Kazys Gimzhauskas, Lileikis' wartime deputy and himself a former U.S. citizen, who is accused of handing over five Jews to death squads.

Prosecutors and Nazi-hunters have said the defence is intentionally delaying the cases, hoping the accused will die before facing trial.

Vilnius was one of three pre-war centres of Jewish cultural life in Lithuania. Over 90 percent of its 220,000-strong pre-war Jewish community was murdered during the Holocaust.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Lithuania court calls exam of alleged war criminal
09:28 a.m. Jan 08, 1999 Eastern

VILNIUS, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A Lithuanian court on Friday called for a fourth medical examination of alleged Nazi-era war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis, a 91-year-old former U.S. citizen, to determine whether he is fit enough to stand trial.

Lileikis, a former Boston-area resident stripped of his U.S. passport in 1996, is accused of turning over 75 Jews to Nazi death squads when he headed the Vilnius region security police during Germany's occupation of Lithuania in World War Two.

Lileikis says he is innocent.

In Friday's brief hearing, presiding Judge Viktoras Kazhys called for another medical commission to clarify whether Lileikis, who is said to be suffering from a variety of head and circulatory ailments, is physically able to take part in the trial.

Two previous medical commissions in 1997 found that he was too ill to stand trial, but a third exam pronounced him fit enough, although it said the stress could damage his health.

Lileikis' first and only court appearance, in November, ended abruptly as he was rushed away in an ambulance complaining of heart pains. An ambiguous medical report following that appearance prompted the fourth commission, prosecutors said.

Under Lithuanian law, the trial is impossible without his presence.

The defence says Lileikis is far too ill to take part in the trial but prosecutors and Nazi-hunters have said the defence is intentionally delaying the case, hoping the accused will die before facing trial.

Vilnius was one of three pre-war centres of Jewish cultural life. Over 90 percent of Lithuania's 220,000-strong pre-war Jewish community was murdered during the Holocaust.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Polish victims of Nazis to seek compensation-report
01:02 p.m Jan 09, 1999 Eastern

BONN, Jan 9 (Reuters) - A group of Polish victims of the Nazi regime is seeking billions of marks in compensation from the German government for wartime injustice, Der Spiegel news magazine said on Saturday.

The latest group to seek compensation is made up of 21,844 Polish former inmates of Nazi jails and concentration camps. It also includes former Polish Foreign Minister Vladislav Bartoszevsky.

The group has written to the German Chancellery seeking ``reparations for Nazi injustice,'' Spiegel said.

A statement from the Chancellery said the Polish victims had already been compensated, it said.

Germany has paid more than 100 billion German marks since the end of World War Two in compensation.

Also, German firms have faced a rash of lawsuits from Holocaust victims in the United States, accusing them of profiting from slave labour, trade in Nazi-looted gold and failing to honour Holocaust victims' life insurance policies.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Schroeder backs Holocaust memorial compromise
10:57 a.m. Jan 19, 1999 Eastern

By Robert Mahoney

BONN, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has backed a toned-down American design for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin that could end a 10-year-old row about how Germany remembers the Nazi murder of Jews, a minister said on Tuesday.

Schroeder, one of the new generation of leaders with no direct experience of World War Two, prefers a living museum to the concrete monument favoured by his predecessor Helmut Kohl, Culture Minister Michael Naumann said.

Naumann said Schroeder's 12-week-old government would not impose the design on the capital but it hoped parliament would vote for the plan by May.

``I have spoken with the chancellor and he supports the plan,'' Naumann said in an interview to appear in the weekly Die Woche.

The debate about how a reunited and increasingly self-confident Germany comes to terms with its Nazi history has crystalised around the monument.

U.S architect Peter Eisenman originally proposed an austere field of 2,700 concrete columns near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

Supporters said the scale and austerity of the project would stand as an imposing reminder of past crimes. Critics called it an eyesore that would dull rather than sharpen young people's curiosity about the past.

Kohl's election defeat last September renewed the whole row, prompting Eisenman to offer to include elements favoured by Schroeder.

The compromise design, which has been widely leaked ahead of its presentation on Wednesday, cuts the number of pillars and introduces archives, a library and exhibits of the Holocaust.

``Eisenman is bringing an extraordinary contribution to Berlin's architecture,'' Naumann told a New Year's reception for the arts.

The new memorial will have only 1,500 pillars and a ``Wall of Books,'' a 20-metre (65 ft)-high, 115-metre (377 ft)-long stack containing one million volumes covering the extermination of Europe's six million Jews.

It will also house a ``Genocide Watch Institute'' that will monitor conflicts to prevent further mass killings, officials linked with the project said.

Planners will consider including elements from Hollywood director Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, a library of 50,000 videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors.

``I think it is an excellent solution combining the notion of a monument that commemorates the terrible events of the Holocaust together with giving it some content so that it is not just stones,'' said Michael Blumenthal, director of the new Jewish Museum in Berlin, who helped broker the compromise between Eisenman and Naumann.

Blumenthal, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Jimmy Carter, denied media speculation that he would become director of the memorial.

But Blumenthal, who fled Germany in 1939, said he would serve on its planning commission to ensure the Jewish Museum and the memorial did not overlap.

``(The Jewish Museum) is going to deal with the history of German Jewry over 2000 years,'' Blumenthal told reporters.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Left-wing politicians argue about E.German amnesty
11:34 a.m. Jan 10, 1999 Eastern

BONN, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Leading east Germans in the ruling Social Democratic party revealed bitter divisions at the weekend over calls for an amnesty on crimes committed under the totalitarian government of former communist East Germany.

Manfred Stolpe, the Social Democrat (SPD) premier of the eastern state of Brandenburg, told Sunday's Welt am Sonntag newspaper there should be an amnesty for all crimes except ``serious crimes against humanity,'' and that it should be introduced this year.

But Wolfgang Thierse, SPD speaker of the lower house of parliament and a former east German dissident, said an amnesty would send out the wrong signals.

``An amnesty would send out a message to the perpetrators of years ago. Prosecution is not aimed at the east German people, but at the small number responsible for crimes,'' Thierse told the news magazine Der Spiegel.

Germany has handed out suspended jail sentences to a number of former East German border guards for carrying out their government's shoot-to-kill policy.

It has also convicted East Germany's last hardline leader, Egon Krenz, although he is still free pending appeal.

Lothar Bisky, head of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) which grew out of the ruling East German communist party after unification in 1991, said he favoured a law to stop the prosecution of former East German officials.

The PDS has long argued such a move would promote reconciliation between those responsible for East Germany's totalitarian rule and its victims.

Groups representing the families of the nearly 1,000 people killed trying to flee to the West have reacted with horror to the idea of an amnesty, saying it is offensive to the memory of those who died.

The PDS angered SPD members in late December when it gave a consultancy position to former Cold War master spy Rainer Rupp, who penetrated NATO headquarters under the name ``Topaz'' for East German intelligence.

There was further controversy last Wednesday when Krenz won a defamation suit against Christine Bergmann, the minister for family affairs and another former East German.

Krenz had sued Bergmann over an article in which she alleged that he had, in 1989, effectively warned East German protesters that they would be dealt with in the same way as Chinese pro-democracy activists killed on Tiananmen Square.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


Polish president visits Israel amid Auschwitz row
09:14 a.m. Jan 10, 1999 Eastern

By Daniel Sternoff

JERUSALEM, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski paid tribute on Sunday to Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust and tried to ease concerns over crosses placed by radical Catholics at Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland.

Kwasniewski laid a wreath at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in memory of the six million Jews -- half of them Polish -- killed by Nazi Germany in World War Two.

He is on a two-day visit to Israel at the invitation of the Peres Centre for Peace, founded by Nobel laureate and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to foster Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Pressed by Israeli reporters over the slow pace of Polish efforts to remove a field of crosses outside Auschwitz, where some 1.3 million Jews were slaughtered, Kwasniewski said the issue was being handled by the Polish courts.

``It is difficult and I can't say what is the timing of legal decisions,'' he said in English.

Radical Catholics have planted the crosses in a bid to protect a seven metre (21-foot) cross under which Polish-born Pope John Paul II prayed in 1979.

Jewish groups regard Auschwitz as the largest graveyard of European Jewry and object to religious symbols at the site.

The cross issue was on the agenda of Kwasniewski's meeting later on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

``This is a matter for private discussions and I think it is a sensitive matter which should be dealt with in a sensitive way,'' Netanyahu told reporters before the talks.

The centre-right Polish government has promised to remove the new crosses and has started legal action aimed at regaining control of the field outside Auschwitz, now leased by a little known War Victims' group which encourages the cross planting.

An aide to Kwasniewski last week criticised the government's use of slow judicial means to solve the cross issue. The leftist president on Sunday spoke in support of drafting a law to protect death camps such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.

Netanyahu said acknowledging the past was crucial for the future development of Polish-Israeli relations, an assessment the Polish president said he shared.

``I think that anti-Semitism in Poland is emerging,'' Kwasniewski told reporters at Yad Vashem. ``It is connected with very few people and of course I am very frustrated that such people are in Poland and try to be active.''

Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe until World War Two when the Nazis killed all but some 300,000 of the country's 3.5 million Jews.

An anti-Semitic pogrom in 1948 and a campaign to drive out Jewish intellectuals in 1968 forced many survivors to flee, leaving what had once been the vibrant heart of European Jewry with only some 10,000 resident Jews.

Kwasniewski noted that Polish authorities after the defeat of communism in 1989 had begun to condemn ``the vile deeds committed in the post-war period'' and had laid the foundations to restore confiscated Jewish property.

He bestowed the High Polish Order of Merit on Holocaust survivor Yisrael Guttman, a former fighter in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising and now Yad Vashem's chief historian, for his efforts to foster Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli cooperation.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


France's Le Pen summoned by German investigators
12:23 p.m. Jan 11, 1999 Eastern

MUNICH, Jan 11 (Reuters) - German prosecutors said on Monday they had summoned French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen for questioning in connection with an investigation into remarks they allege play down the Nazi Holocaust.

A spokesman for Munich prosecutors, who formally opened the investigation into Le Pen last October, said they were still awaiting a reply from the politician.

Le Pen, the leader of France's anti-immigration National Front, was not obliged to come to answer investigators' questions, spokesman Manfred Wick said.

Munich prosecutors said they would seek to put Le Pen on trial following his remark that the murder of six million Jews in Nazi gas chambers was a ``mere detail'' of history.

It is illegal in Germany to deny or trivialise the Holocaust. The offence, known as the Auschwitz lie, is included in Germany's law against incitement to racial hatred.

The maximum penalty is five years in jail and a stiff fine.

Le Pen admitted having made the comment at the launch of a German-language biography in 1997 entitled ``Le Pen the Rebel.'' But he has denied it trivialised the Holocaust and insisted that ``detail'' had another meaning in French.

A judicial investigation in Germany is the first step towards bringing charges.

Wick's office said it had received a tape from a publishing house in which Le Pen could be heard making the controversial remark at the book launch in Munich.

The European Parliament, where Le Pen has a seat, lifted his immunity last year clearing the way for his eventual trial in Germany.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


French railways hit by another Holocaust suit
01:30 p.m Jan 11, 1999 Eastern

PARIS, Jan 11 (Reuters) - France's SNCF railways has been hit with its second legal suit within a month for transporting tens of thousands of Jews to wartime concentration camps, judicial officials said on Monday.

A French Jew whose parents perished in the Holocaust has filed the suit at a court outside Paris, accusing the SNCF of crimes against humanity and demanding that it open its archives to determine who was responsible, they said.

In late December, a French Jew now living in Canada filed a similar suit in a French court against the railway, which was celebrated after the Second World War as a hotbed of Resistance activity.

Kurt Schaechter, 75, said in his suit filed in the eastern Paris suburb of Creteil that French trains driven by volunteers transported more than 85,000 Jews to concentration camps between 1941 and 1944. Only about 2,400 returned.

Schaechter, who is of Austrian origin, asked for the SNCF to hand over files held in Toulouse that he believed would give more information about the organisation of the convoys.

The Creteil court said a decision on whether to accept or reject the suit would be made in the next two weeks.

In the earlier case, Jean-Jacques Fraenkel also asked for access to wartime archives. He said his well-to-do family had valuable paintings in their Paris apartment which vanished after his father was deported to Auschwitz in 1941 and his mother sent there two years later.

Apart from SNCF, six French banks are being sued by Jewish customers and their descendents to account for assets they administered during the war.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


FOCUS-No delay in Bankers buy on Holocaust-Deutsche
03:13 p.m Jan 11, 1999 Eastern

By Thomas Atkins

MANNHEIM, Germany, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank AG's (DBKG.F) chief Rolf Breuer said on Monday he did not expect a delay in the approval for its purchase of U.S. investment house Bankers' Trust due to Holocaust-related objections.

Deutsche faces billions of dollars of claims it and other banks looted Holocaust victims' bank accounts and New York regulators have said a class-action lawsuit filed against it in the United States last year could delay the merger.

Breuer's announcement coincided with comments from an official from the World Jewish Congress speaking on condition of anonymity in New York that the group would soon advise regulators on whether it should delay the fusion.

Breuer was confident, however, there would be no delay.

``The approval is going according to plan and will not be impeded or slowed by Holocaust (objections),'' Breuer told reporters at German economics research institute ZEW in the southwestern city of Mannheim.

The Deutsche's planned $10.1 billion merger with Bankers' Trust needs to be approved by New York State banking regulators and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The World Jewish Congress, which has helped lead the global effort to get what it calls moral and economic justice for Holocaust victims, said last month it was considering whether it would object to the proposed fusion.

Breuer declined to comment on the German giant's future strategy in Italy, following its purchase of a 0.75 percent stake in Italian bank UniCredito (CRDI.MI).

When asked whether Deutsche Bank had any further acquisitions in its sights, Breuer said: ``Not at the moment.''

European bank consolidation has taken place up to now within national confines, Breuer said. The introduction of the euro, however, will lead to more cross-border mergers.

``At the moment you see in Italy, France and Germany that most of the mergers are taking place nationally not across borders,'' he said.

Earlier on Monday, UniCredito chairman Lucio Rondelli said his bank was ready to cooperate with Deutsche, one of the world's largest banks, if it served the interests of UniCredito.

A Deutsche spokesman in Frankfurt declined to comment on Rondelli's statement or to elaborate on Deutsche's strategic interest in acquiring the stake.

While Deutsche remains mum, analysts have struggled to explain the move, with several saying it is probably a pure financial investment without strategic significance for Deutsche.

Deutsche also owns around 4.45 percent of Banca Commerciale Italiana(BCMI.MI), making it the bank's second largest shareholder.

Breuer warned against bank mergers purely for the sake of creating larger financial institutions.

``Size alone is no replacement for strategy,'' he said.

``Mergers, alliances and cooperations cannot be goals in their right.''

Breuer also predicted that the number of large European transaction banks capable of facilitating commerce throughout the euro-zone would number five to 10. ``The market doesn't need more,'' he said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


U.S. Rabbi Indicted In Wife's Hit-Man Death
07:14 p.m Jan 11, 1999 Eastern

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (Reuters) - A New Jersey rabbi was indicted Monday on charges that he hired a hit man to kill his wife so he could pursue liaisons with other women, prosecutors said.

A Camden County grand jury indicted rabbi Fred Neulander, 57, on state murder and conspiracy charges stemming from the slaying of Carol Neulander, 52.

Neulander, the founder and former spiritual leader of Congregation M'kor Shalom in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, was arrested and charged in September after a four-year police investigation and released on $400,000 bail. He has denied any role in the murder.

The Camden County prosecutor's office said the indictment would allow the case to enter the pretrial hearing process. No trial date was set.

Neulander's wife was found bludgeoned to death on the living room floor of their New Jersey home on Nov. 1, 1994. At the time, he was senior rabbi at M'kor Shalom, one of the largest reform synagogues in southern New Jersey.

Prosecutors claimed Neulander had a long history of extra-marital affairs and hired an underworld hit man to kill his wife after one of his lovers demanded he get a divorce.

Prosecutors said Neulander told friends he wanted to end his marriage so he could be with another woman, but feared a scandal would jeopardize his job. Last year, the Camden County grand jury also heard testimony that Neulander told a racquetball partner he wished he could come home one night and find his wife dead on the floor. She died weeks later.

He resigned as M'kor Shalom's senior rabbi in 1995 amid revelations that he had engaged in affairs with a number of women, including Philadelphia radio personality Elaine Soncini, a member of the congregation who had sought spiritual counseling.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis suspended his membership the following year.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


FOCUS-Deutsche Bank has 'blood on hands'-Jewish group
06:06 p.m Jan 11, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, Jan 11 (Reuters) - A prominent Jewish group whose views carry weight with U.S. politicians on Monday claimed that Deutsche Bank (DBKG.F) had ``blood on its hands'' from Holocaust victims, as it considered whether to fight the bank's proposed acquisition of Bankers Trust, the eighth-largest U.S. bank.

A World Jewish Congress official said the group, in an effort to gain what it calls moral and economic justice for Holocaust victims, would advise New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi later this month, after meeting with German Chancellery Minister Bodo Hombach. The WJC official requested anonymity.

New York State and federal banking officials, who will decide whether to approve the big German bank's merger with Bankers Trust (BT.N), have been asked to weigh how Deutsche Bank responds to questions about its conduct under the Nazi regime, from any use of slave labour -- a charge the bank has denied -- to its brokering or buying assets taken from Jews by the Nazis.

Hevesi last year organised a group of state and local financial officials, whose threat to boycott Swiss banks was instrumental in persuading them to reach a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims.

The comptroller was expected to follow the WJC's recommendation on Deutsche Bank's response to Holocaust claims.

Spokesmen for Hevesi and Deutsche Bank, which refers calls to its Frankfurt headquarters, were not immediately available for comment.

Separately, Deutsche Bank chief Rolf Breuer on Monday said he did not expect that the bank's purchase of Bankers Trust would be delayed due to Holocaust-related objections.

``The approval is going according to plan and will not be impeded or slowed by Holocaust (objections),'' Breuer told reporters at German economics research institute ZEW in the southwestern city of Mannheim.

A New York State banking official said Deutsche Bank had yet to file an application for the merger, expected to be finalised in May.

The WJC leaders, before making their recommendation, also will consider a 400-page report prepared in 1946 by the U.S. military on Deutsche Bank's activities during World War II.

Some aspects of this declassified report, which in part was based on interviews with the German bank's board of directors, might prove incendiary. ``Deutsche Bank has blood on its hands ...

Its activities make the Swiss banks look like Boy Scouts,'' the WJC official said.

The WJC was not accusing Deutsche Bank's present employees of ``any kind of guilt,'' the official said.

``But, they do have a responsibility and any suggestion that Deutsche Bank did not employ slave labour is almost laughable,'' he added.

Deutsche Bank, along with other German and Austrian banks, faces billion-dollar class-action lawsuits filed in U.S. court in New York, which charge that the banks ``played an integral role in the Nazi Holocaust and war effort,'' the official said.

The big German bank has responded to the claims by noting that it was part of a working group trying to resolve the issues and that any deposits made by Jewish clients under Nazi Germany had to be transferred to government authorities. In a prepared statement released on December 7, the bank stated: ``Deutsche Bank did not employ slave labour.''

In mid-December, the German bank, which has been on an expansion drive, fired back at a U.S. lawyer representing Holocaust victims, saying his claim to ``new evidence'' of the bank's Nazi past stemmed from old papers that had been public for about 50 years. ``Deutsche Bank's involvement in aryanization is known and we have never denied it,'' a bank spokesman said.

((U.S. Municipal Desk, 212-859-1650, nyc.munis.newsroom+reuters.com))

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


French court tells museum to surrender Klimt
10:54 a.m. Jan 12, 1999 Eastern

STRASBOURG, France, Jan 12 (Reuters) - A French court has ordered Strasbourg's modern art museum to return a painting by Austrian master Gustav Klimt to a Jewish family that claims it was stolen from them by the Nazis.

The city promptly filed an appeal and has declined to hand over ``Die Erfuellung'' (Fulfillment), an ornate 1909 portrait of a woman in blissful embrace with her lover.

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art bought the work, which measures 120 by 193 centimetres (47 by 76 inches), in 1959 and it has since become one of its best-known pieces.

But the court on Monday sided with children of Austrian emigre Karl Grunwald, who said the Nazis stole the picture from him in 1940 after annexing Strasbourg and the Alsace region.

Grunwald had moved to France in 1938, the year Hitler annexed Austria, and brought about 50 paintings with him. They were all confiscated and auctioned off in 1942 and 1943.

The court ruled there was enough evidence to prove that ``Die Erfuellung'' had belonged to Grunwald, citing the fact that he had known leading figures of the Vienna Secession group, including Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.

It also noted that the stamp of the firm Grunwald hired to transport the artworks was on the back of the painting.

An association acting on behalf of the Strasbourg museum bought the work in 1959 from the heirs of a local painter for just 500 francs ($90 at the present day exchange rate).

The court said the association, which included the then director of Strasbourg's museums, had paid 30 times below the market value for the work.

``The defendant (Strasbourg city)...was happy to buy the disputed painting for a derisory price without seeking further information on the origin or history of this work,'' the court said in a written ruling.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Le Pen to be quizzed in France on German charge
06:00 a.m. Jan 12, 1999 Eastern

PARIS, Jan 12 (Reuters) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, summoned by a German prosecutor for allegedly trivialising the Holocaust, will submit to questioning by a French magistrate in France, his spokesman said on Tuesday.

National Front spokesman Alain Vizier said the Schengen treaty guaranteeing passport-free movement among its 10 member states also allowed such cross-border legal cooperation.

``He said that would be no problem,'' Vizier told Reuters, adding it was not yet clear where in France or when the questioning would take place.

Denying or trivialising the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews is a crime in Germany carrying a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a stiff fine.

Le Pen, a blustery 70-year-old populist, caught the Munich prosecutor's attention when he brushed off the Third Reich's gas chambers as ``a detail of history'' at the launch of a German biography of him in the Bavarian capital in December 1997.

His status as a European Parliament deputy protected him from being summoned immediately, but the assembly voted overwhelmingly last October to lift his immunity. A judicial investigation is the first step towards bringing charges.

Asked at the time if he would appear before the Munich court, he shot back: ``My condition is that they guarantee I will not be immediately sent to Dachau or Buchenwald.''

The former Dachau concentration camp is located outside Munich.

Le Pen said he would need some kind of diplomatic immunity to travel to Germany for any trial appearance, adding: ``I know there are thousands of people in prisons in Germany for expressing their opinions.''

Le Pen, whose party recently split over a challenge to his iron-fisted rule, says he has never denied the existence of the gas chambers and argues that the word ``detail'' has different meanings in French and in German.

He says a 1,000-page history of World War Two would have only a few lines about the gas chambers and that wartime heroes such as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. commander Dwight Eisenhower and Free French General Charles de Gaulle did not mention them in their memoirs.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Deutsche mum on Bankers merger after ``blood'' claims
02:15 p.m Jan 12, 1999 Eastern

By Thomas Atkins

FRANKFURT, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank AG on Tuesday refused to be drawn by comments from a World Jewish Congress official that it had ``blood on its hands,'' but analysts feared the latest salvo could hamper a planned merger with Bankers Trust.

Deutsche faces billions of dollars of claims that it, along with other banks, looted the bank accounts of Holocaust victims and New York regulators have said a U.S. class-action lawsuit filed against the German bank last year could also delay the merger.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bank declined to comment on statements from an anonymous WJC official, who said the bank, one of the world's 10 largest, had blood on its hands from Holocaust victims.

Analysts, meanwhile, said the anonymous comment could darken prospects for U.S. approval for the takeover and that merger costs could rise if the project were to stall due to opposition from Jewish groups.

``I think it's a problem because it can delay the merger and if the merger is delayed, then it can complicate the integration of the two firms, which could increase the costs,'' said analyst Volker von Kruchten with BHF Bank in Frankfurt.

``Deutsche Bank won't successfully merge with Bankers Trust until this matter is off the table.''

The Deutsche's planned $10.1 billion merger with Bankers Trust needs to be approved by New York State banking regulators and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

On Monday, shortly before the anonymous WJC comment emerged, Deutsche Bank's chief executive Rolf Breuer expressed confidence the merger remained on track.

Breuer told reporters in Mannheim that he did not expect the bank's $10.1 billion takeover of the U.S.investment house would be delayed due to Holocaust-related objections.

``The approval is going according to plan and will not be impeded or slowed by Holocaust (objections),'' Breuer said.

Another German banking analyst rejected the idea that anonymous comments from the WJC signalled a new hurdle for the merger, but said Deutsche Bank now risked being put in a negative context no matter what it does in the United States.

``When it comes to public discussion, then it could be that the name Deutsche Bank will appear in a negative light,'' he said.

Von Kruchten said a resolution of the matter may require intervention from the German government and may follow the example by Swiss banks, which settled Nazi-era claims from Holocaust victims in a $1.25 billion agreement in August.

``It's at least a good example if only in the sense that the political establishment tried to help settle it,'' he said.

The anonymous WJC official said the group would advise New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi on the merger later this month after meeting with German Chancellery Minister Bodo Hombach, as the WJC mulls contesting the proposed merger.

The official said the WJC's planned advisory statement was an effort to gain what it calls moral and economic justice for Holocaust victims.

New York State and federal banking officials, who must approve Deutsche's takeover of Bankers Trust, have been asked to weigh how the German bank responds to questions about its conduct under the Nazi regime.

Hevesi last year organised a group of state and local financial officials, whose threat to boycott Swiss banks was instrumental in persuading them to reach a $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust victims.

Deutsche, one of the world's top 10 banks, has responded to the claims by noting it was part of a working group trying to resolve the issues and that any deposits made by Jewish clients under Nazi Germany had to be transferred to government authorities.

((Frankfurt Newsroom +49 69 756525, frankfurt.newsroom+reuters.com))

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Holocaust Suits Wrap-Up By 2000 Unrealistic -Group
09:19 a.m. Jan 12, 1999 Eastern

By Deborah Cole

BERLIN (Reuters) - A U.S. Jewish leader Tuesday said he doubted Germany would manage to close the file by 2000 on claims against companies which employed slave laborers in the Nazi era.

David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), praised Bonn's efforts to speed up compensation for Holocaust victims. But he said there were too many unresolved problems to wrap up the process quickly.

``The goals are admirable, especially when they involve an effort to accelerate dealing with issues of restitution, but we still have major issues before us,'' Harris told a news conference.

``Against the backdrop of 47 or more years of negotiations, I would be very surprised if we could bring closure in the next two years or less,'' he said, referring to agreements made in 1952 to resolve initial post-war claims.

Harris did not go into detail, but many compensation claims by former Nazi slave laborers have come in from different countries, making it harder to reach a broad settlement.

Chancellery Minister Bodo Hombach, appointed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to chair talks with industry chiefs on the claims, said last November that Bonn aimed to work out settlements to all suits by 2000.

Hombach said resolution of the claims did not mean they were justified in all cases, but was intended as a humanitarian gesture to elderly Holocaust survivors.

German media have reported that Hombach's plan would set up a private fund financed by German industry that would derive its official status from a bilateral agreement between Bonn and Washington.

The lawsuits primarily entail people forced into slave labor by Nazi Germany. Historians say they may have numbered as many as 12 million, mostly from the former Soviet bloc.

Companies involved in talks with the government about a fund include Deutsche Bank, metals group Degussa, engineering firm Siemens, insurer Allianz and carmakers BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and DaimlerChrysler AG.

Harris also gave his backing to plans by Schroeder's Culture Minister Michael Naumann for a memorial to Holocaust victims which would also include a museum -- perhaps based on an archive built up by film producer Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation.

Schroeder's center-left government, which was elected last September, has rejected plans backed by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl for a vast field of pillars to be erected as a monument in the heart of the capital Berlin.

Harris said Kohl's favored design, by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman, might lose educational meaning with the passage of time.

``A monument that is essentially abstract will not over time be able to speak as powerfully to future generations as one that combines these two elements,'' he said, referring to the museum.

``It shouldn't simply become a monument that over time blends into the landscape of the city.''

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Clinton Creates Working Group On Nazi Records
12:34 a.m. Jan 12, 1999 Eastern

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton Monday created a presidential working group to locate, inventory and quickly make public all classified records held by the United States relating to Nazi war criminals.

The group, to be chaired by the U.S. archivist, will include several Cabinet-level officials, including Defense Secretary William Cohen, Attorney General Janet Reno and CIA Director George Tenet, the White House said in a statement.

The director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the State Department historian and FBI Director Louis Freeh will serve on the committee, the White House added.

Clinton also appointed Thomas Baer, a Hollywood film producer, former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Ben-Veniste to the panel.

The Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group will recommend for declassification and make available at the National Archives all classified Nazi war criminal records, subject to certain exceptions stipulated in federal law.

Under Clinton's executive order, the panel must complete its work to ``the greatest extent possible'' and report to Congress within one year, with a final cap of three years on its life span.

Holocaust victims in the United States have filed a series of lawsuits in recent years against Germany and Switzerland, seeking compensation for wartime injustice and accusing German firms of profiting from slave labor, trade in Nazi-looted gold and failure to honor victims' life insurance policies.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Deutsche Bank starved slave laborers--U.S. report
06:08 p.m Jan 12, 1999 Eastern

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, Jan 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. military held Deutsche Bank responsible for murdering by starvation slave labourers who worked at an industrial company it ran during the Nazi regime, according to a 1946 report.

The declassified report, prepared just after the Second World War, gained new significance because the big German bank plans to buy Bankers Trust, the eighth largest U.S. bank.

Deutsche Bank was as responsible as what was then its industrial affiliate, Mannesmann Roehrenwerke, Germany's foremost producer of steel tubes, for abusing workers, according to an excerpt of the report obtained by Reuters.

Citing field reports from Mannesmann's own managers, the U.S.

military said: ``The picture ... will show conclusively that Mannesmann, and this includes the Vorstand (management board), the directories of subsidiaries and their employees in charge of foreign workers, are guilty of: murder by starvation, forcible use, inhuman treatment, gross criminal neglect and abuse of foreign labour.''

A Frankfurt-based spokesman for the bank, whose desire to buy Bankers Trust has put its Nazi past under renewed scrutiny, declined to comment when asked about the 1946 report, which was prepared by the Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.), Finance Division.

Deutsche Bank had responded to Holocaust claims by saying it was part of a working group trying to resolve the issues and that any deposits made by Jewish clients under Nazi Germany had to be transferred to government authorities.

But, in a prepared statement released December 7, the bank also stated: ``Deutsche Bank did not employ the use of slave labour.''

Holocaust victims and the World Jewish Congress on Monday asked federal and New York City officials to weigh how Germany's largest commercial bank handles these 50-year-old but still explosive issues before they decide whether to approve the proposed bank union.

Top officials of the WJC, which says it wants moral and economic justice for Holocaust victims, will soon review the report. Later this month, the key Jewish group, which has the ear of U.S. politicians, plans to meet with the German government before advising New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi on whether to object to the Deutsche Bank-Bankers Trust merger.

The U.S. military said Deutsche Bank also had a crucial role in the abuse of workers at other firms it controlled.

``This report analyses and establishes the decisive role that the Deutsche Bank played not only as the financier but as the policy maker, production and personnel manager of Mannesmann Roehrenwerke, Bayerische Motoren Werke, and Daimler-Benz, and to a considerably lesser degree of Siemens.''

While Mannesmann used mainly prisoners of war, Bayerische Motorwerke A.G. relied on inmates of Dachau as well as POWs.

Daimler-Benz had more than 15,000 foreign workers -- over 25 percent of its workforce. Siemens, which in 1939 made over 50 percent of the motors for U-boat submarines, had a plant at Auschwitz.

Grisly examples documenting how slave labourers, POWs, and concentration camp victims, were abused -- including a lime quarry's request for a mincing machine because the slaves were too weak to digest what little food they got -- are contained in the report.

The lack of leather shoes, let alone food, cost slave labourers their lives at a Mannesmann foundry in Duisburg-Huckingan, which started using foreigners in 1940, when ``a first shipment of 200 French prisoners of war arrived,'' the report said.

Of the 72 slave workers who died from 1943 to 1945, 59 were Russians. The report said 18 were killed by air raids, their deaths attributed to ``no shelter,'' and 16 workers died in accidents.

``The large percentage of death by accident of the Eastern workers is explained by the fact that Eastern workers in many cases did not have the right shoes for the work they performed, so that wooden shoes instead of leather ones were worn at work,'' according to the foundry.

((U.S. Municipal Desk, 212-859-1650, nyc.munis.newsroom+reuters.com))

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


Three U.S. Jewish leaders ask for Pollard freedom
12:30 a.m. Jan 12, 1999 Eastern

LOS ANGELES, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Three U.S. Jewish leaders are asking President Bill Clinton to show ``the redeeming quality of mercy'' by freeing Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, was to be sent on Tuesday by World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz. In the letter, the three also seek a meeting with Clinton.

Clinton promised to review Pollard's case last October during the negotiation of a U.S.-brokered interim peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had demanded that Pollard's release be included in the deal.

Clinton is being strongly advised by many within his administration and in the intelligence community not to grant clemency to Pollard who began serving a life sentence for espionage in 1986.

In their letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, the three leaders said: ``The crimes of Jonathan Pollard were contemptible and we reject any effort to justify or rationalise them. At the same time in the light of his many years of incarceration and his repeated statements of contrition, we would wish to address to you our hope that as president you could consider the redeeming quality of mercy by invoking compassion at the human level.''

Pollard, who is being held in a maximum security prison in Butner, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in 1986 to handing over highly sensitive U.S. information to Israel.

Meanwhile an article published on Monday in the New Yorker magazine by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh said Pollard, an ex-Navy analyst, inflicted major damage to extremely sensitive U.S. intelligence systems.

The report cited ``senior members'' of the U.S. intelligence community as saying Pollard passed on copies of a highly secretive surveillance manual as well as other details of systems ``that are so secret that they have never been cited by name in public.''

Pollard is quoted as rejecting the allegation, saying ``the government has consistently lied in its public version of what I gave the Israelis.''

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


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