Swiss banks have published the names of more than 2,600 people whose bank accounts in Switzerland have lain dormant for more than 60 years, giving them or their heirs one last chance to claim their wealth before it reverts to the state. Over the past months, the World Jewish Congress was in consultation with the Swiss Bankers' Association on this issue, and it was agreed that the WJC would disseminate the link to the published dormant accounts
The SBA said on Wednesday that around CHF 44 million (US $ 44.5 million) were lying fallow in bank accounts that had gone untouched since at least 1955. There are also around 80 safety deposit boxes whose contents and owners are unclear.
The searchable website https://www.dormantaccounts.ch went live on Wednesday following new legislation that took effect last January.
"By publishing this information, the banks are making a last attempt to re-establish contact with the customer," said Claude-Alain Margelisch, chief executive of the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA). "For the banks, on the other hand, these new regulations create legal certainty for the treatment of dormant assets."
More names will be added to the list every year as the 60-year period rolls on. The deadline for submitting requests is one year from the date of publication. It could take weeks or months to evaluate claims, the banking association says, adding banks may charge their costs to claimants who file clearly unfounded requests.
During the 1990s, the World Jewish Congress led a campaign for Swiss banks to return assets of Holocaust victims. In 1998, Swiss banks agreed to a US$ 1.25-billion settlement of these claims.
The website provides information regarding dormant assets held at Swiss banks for which the last customer contact was at least 60 years ago and the value of which is above CHF 500 or is unknown.
As of 1 January 2015, Swiss law demands that assets of bank clients with a total value exceeding that amount have to be published after having been without contact for ten years and dormant for another 50 years, e.g. after a total of 60 years. These assets will be liquidated and transferred to the Swiss government if no beneficiary has submitted a justified request within a given delay.
The procedure also applies to safe deposit boxes with an estimated value of more than CHF 500.
The deadline for submitting requests is one year from the date of publication or, in the case of assets for which the last customer contact was in 1954 or earlier, five years. If a request is clearly unfounded, and the person making the claim cannot credibly demonstrate a connection with the assets claimed, the bank may require that person to reimburse the costs incurred by the bank in examining the claim.
World Jewish Congress informs Jewish communities
In an email on Wednesday, WJC Chief Executive Officer Robert Singer informed Jewish community leaders around the world about the publication. "While we have no reason to believe that any Holocaust-era accounts are included on the newly published list, we have agreed with the SBA leadership that we will communicate the above link to our member communities so that you can in turn make the list available to anyone in your country who might have an interest.
"The SBA leadership has also agreed that the WJC would be the liaison with the SBA with respect to any accounts on the list that might be brought to our attention by the lay or professional leadership of our communities. Any other questions must be raised by individuals directly with the SBA," Singer wrote.