Survivors to sue Bank Leumi

In an increasingly bitter legal dispute, the Israeli organization for the restitution of assets for Holocaust victims will file a $77 million lawsuit against Bank Leumi next week over assets that belong to Holocaust victims and their heirs, a group spokeswoman said June 17.

The legal action against Israel’s second largest bank follows years of fruitless negotiations to reclaim the funds that the restitution group said were deposited by Holocaust victims in thousands of bank accounts before World War II. Bank Leumi was founded in London in 1902 as the Anglo Palestine Company.

The $77 million claimed in the lawsuit, which will be filed in a Tel Aviv court next week, was deposited by Holocaust victims in more than 3,500 Bank Leumi accounts, group spokeswoman Meital Noy said.

In a largely symbolic move, Bank Leumi transferred $5 million to the organization two years ago, even though the bank has asserted that it does not hold any funds or property belonging to Holocaust victims.

An internal report carried out for the bank by a retired Supreme Court justice concluded that the bank is not legally obliged to hand over money it had held for people who died in the Holocaust to their heirs.

On June 17 a Bank Leumi spokesperson rejected the imminent lawsuit as “baseless,” and said that the legal action was being taken solely to cover up the restitution organization’s own blunders and waste of public funds.

“During the course of working with the organization faults were found with its operations. In the hundreds of files which the organization was asked to investigate, errors were found in the sum of hundreds of millions of shekels,” the bank said in a written response. “It should be pointed out that Bank Leumi, on its own initiative, transferred NIS 20 million [$5 million] to the organization due to its deep commitment to the matter.”

The restitution group spokeswoman called the $5 million Bank Leumi transfered “a joke” that came nowhere near the more than $75 million they owed.

The vast majority of bank accounts opened by Holocaust victims were in Bank Leumi.

The Israeli organization for the restitution of assets for Holocaust victims was established by the Knesset three years ago in an effort to uncover and return the assets of Holocaust victims to their rightful heirs.

Property and assets belonging to Holocaust victims valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars have been held by various state institutions in Israel for dozens of years, and have only recently begun to be transferred to their rightful heirs.