Former Swiss bank guard is closer to getting asylum

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WASHINGTON — The fate of the Swiss bank guard who rescued Holocaust-era documents from the shredder of a Swiss bank now lies in the hands of President Clinton.

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to grant asylum to Christoph Meili and his family.

The Senate already approved legislation that would provide Meili and his family with permanent U.S. residency status. The bill now awaits Clinton's signature.

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), who has hailed Meili as a hero and sponsored the legislation, said in a statement that Congress' action "demonstrates that America understands the courage exhibited by Christoph Meili was extraordinary and worthy of our support."

Meili, 29, was making his rounds as a night watchman at Union Bank of Switzerland in January when he discovered carts of Holocaust-era documents headed for the paper shredder. He secretly turned over some of them to a Jewish organization in Zurich.

A Swiss law enacted just prior to Meili's discovery made it illegal to destroy documents relating to Switzerland's probe of its dealings with Nazi Germany and the search for missing Jewish assets.

Union Bank of Switzerland acknowledged that an employee had destroyed records and called it "a regrettable incident." But the bank's chairman, Robert Studer, and others accused Meili of having ulterior motives when he turned over the documents. Swiss prosecutors say Meili may have violated the country's bank secrecy laws and could be jailed.

Meili has said he simply did what he thought was right. At a congressional hearing in May, he said he decided to act after seeing the film "Schindler's List." Meili lost his job after the incident and said he and his family received death threats. They fled to the United States in April.