Swiss bank sanctions criticized

LOS ANGELES — The State Department has asked California's treasurer to reverse the state's sanctions against Swiss banks, claiming such "punitive measures" undermine the Swiss government's efforts to carry out its commitments to Holocaust survivors.

Matt Fong announced last week he had imposed a moratorium on state investments and deposits in three major Swiss banks until speedier progress is made in settling Holocaust-era accounts.

The California action actually was begun, without public notice, in August.

Since then, California has liquidated $2 billion held in the banks and eliminated direct investment in Switzerland, said Fong spokesman Roger Wildermuth.

Following Fong's public announcement, Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat phoned the state treasurer and urged him to lift the moratorium, spelling out his objections in a follow-up letter.

In his two-page letter to Fong, Eizenstat cited efforts by Swiss banks to identify dormant World War II accounts and to establish a fund of some $200 million to aid Holocaust survivors. Eizenstat also noted the Swiss president's pledge to conduct a "merciless search for the truth" about his country's past.

Eizenstat warned that sanctions such as Fong's "have led to a negative reaction in Switzerland, creating the impression among the Swiss population that they are under unfair attack. This impression undermines the Swiss government's ability to complete those initiatives that are subject to a direct vote of the people in referenda."

The referenda apply to the public's need to approve a Swiss government proposal to establish a $4.7 billion solidarity fund, some of which would be earmarked for Holocaust survivors.

In response, Wildermuth said, "We are reviewing Mr. Eizenstat's concerns and appreciate having the benefit of his views."

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent