Sep 2002 Journal

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Claims Conference ready to pull out of insurance company deal

The Claims Conference is prepared to withdraw from a deal that protects German insurance companies from lawsuits by survivors of the Holocaust in return for the pledge of reparation funds. Israel Singer, elected the Conference's new president in May this year following the death of Rabbi Israel Miller, has said that his members are "frustrated" by the slow pace at which Holocaust-linked restitution payments are being made.

According to a report in the Jewish Chronicle, Wolfgang Gibowski, a spokesperson for Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future, a foundation set up by the German government and major industrial companies to make swift payments to forced labourers and other Nazi victims, denied that the insurance companies were to blame. Gibowski placed the blame squarely on the International Commission of Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). ICHEIC was set up in Washington in October 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and several European insurance companies, European regulators, representatives of various Jewish organizations, and the State of Israel to address the matter of unpaid insurance policies issued to victims of the Holocaust.

Dale Franklin, an ICHEIC spokesman, responded: "There has been a lot of criticism about how much time it has taken, but those not involved in the negotiations cannot understand the complexity of the challenge. There is good faith on both sides, but we would like to conclude the negotiations so we can move forward with payment of claims."

Rabbi Singer said the Claims Conference might "reject the funds" and inform the US federal judge who has been mediating in the dispute that "we reject the granting of [legal] closure."

Mr Gibowski said there was no reason to take such action: "We are doing everything on the German side. The foundation is there, the money is there." The companies stood to gain nothing by postponing payments, he asserted.
Insurance claims process may be extended
The fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Luxembourg Agreement on reparations - by the West German government, Israel and the Claims Conference - occurred recently. Over $50 billion in reparations has been secured for more than 500,000 survivors in the half-century since the agreement came into effect.

Two years ago German insurance firms agreed to pay some $225 million as part of a $5 billion German government and industry fund once legal immunity had been settled. But a Claims Conference spokesperson said that most of the companies were not following ICHEIC guidelines.

An independent report commissioned by ICHEIC released earlier this year found that many firms were too quick to deny claims and criticised ICHEIC for high expenses and insufficient oversight of agencies hired to handle enquiries and process claims. "It identified areas where we could help claimants more and improve our procedures," said Mr Franklin. He added that the insurance claims process would probably be extended beyond the 30 September deadline. "Once claims are paid and everyone has accepted or rejected their offers, ICHEIC should be able to close down," he said.
Howard Spier

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