Swiss Bank Credit Suisse Maintained Nazi-Linked Bank Accounts
(April 18, 2023)
Multiple reports shine a new light on Credit Suisse’s historical servicing of Nazi clients and Nazi-linked accounts, which in some cases continued until as recently as 2020. The reports, released by the Senate Budget Committee on Holocaust Remembrance Day, detail a multi-year internal investigation by a forensic research firm retained by Credit Suisse and initially overseen by an Independent Ombudsperson who was inexplicably terminated by the bank during the course of the review. While the resulting reports are incomplete and were hampered by scoping restrictions, they nonetheless reveal nearly 100 previously undisclosed Nazi-linked accounts and related information, and they raise new questions about the bank’s potential support for Nazis fleeing justice following World War II via so-called “Ratlines.”
The reports were provided to the Budget Committee pursuant to a subpoena and a subsequent bipartisan investigation by Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). The Committee has jurisdiction over the federal budget, including budget requests related to the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues. Because of the Committee’s investigation, the reports are now public and Credit Suisse has pledged to continue its own investigation into remaining unanswered questions.
“When it comes to investigating Nazi matters, righteous justice demands that we must leave no stone unturned. Credit Suisse has thus far failed to meet that standard. While Credit Suisse initially agreed to investigate evidence of previously unidentified Nazi-linked accounts as a result of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s relentless pursuit of justice, the information we’ve obtained shows the bank established an unnecessarily rigid and narrow scope, and refused to follow new leads uncovered during the course of the review. Its removal of an Independent Ombudsperson and insistence on redacting portions of his report as well as its initial refusal to pursue leads on accounts that may be associated with Nazi ratlines is no way to conduct a thorough and complete investigation. Now that the bank has pledged to continue investigating as a result of our oversight, we’ll keep a close eye on its thoroughness going forward. Holocaust survivors and their families deserve nothing less,” Grassley said.
“When presented with credible, new evidence of Credit Suisse’s historical servicing of Nazi clients and their enablers, along with continued efforts to downplay its significance, the Committee had an obligation to act,” said Senator Whitehouse, Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “I share Ranking Member Grassley’s commitment to leaving no stone unturned when it comes to investigating Nazis and seeking justice for Holocaust survivors and their families, and we commit to seeing this investigation through. The fact that Credit Suisse has agreed to expand the scope of its initial investigation in response to the Committee’s investigation demonstrates the power of congressional oversight of corporate malfeasance.”
In March of 2020, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) notified Credit Suisse that it had credible information the bank held potential Nazi-linked accounts that had not previously been disclosed, including during the many Holocaust-related investigations of the 1990s. As a result, the bank voluntarily agreed to investigate. It retained forensic research firm AlixPartners Ltd to conduct the review, and, with SWC’s support, subsequently retained Neil Barofsky of Jenner & Block LLP in June 2021 to oversee AlixPartners’s review and serve as Independent Ombudsperson. In February 2023, Ranking Member Grassley received credible allegations of potential wrongdoing related to Credit Suisse’s internal investigation, including specifically the questionable removal of Mr. Barofsky in late 2022. Ranking Member Grassley also learned that, consistent with his contract with Credit Suisse, Mr. Barofsky had drafted a report of his findings for the bank, but it had not been released.
Ranking Member Grassley approached Chairman Whitehouse, and they agreed that pursuing the allegations was in the public interest. Accordingly, with full bipartisan support, Chairman Whitehouse and Ranking Member Grassley issued the Committee’s first subpoena since 1991 to compel Mr. Barofsky to produce his report.
To investigate these claims, Committee staff reviewed the report and interviewed Mr. Barofsky, Credit Suisse’s General Counsel and other officials, and their respective attorneys. In the context of these conversations, the Committee also received and reviewed AlixPartners’s initial report, which was completed only after the Committee had subpoenaed and received Mr. Barofsky’s report.
As a direct result of the Committee’s investigation and its questions regarding the bank’s lack of attention to evidence involving Ratlines, Credit Suisse has committed to further investigate its apparent role in supporting Nazis fleeing from justice after WWII and to provide more detailed data about the value of accounts held during the post-1945 period. The Committee intends to continue its oversight of this matter.
- Credit Suisse appears to have maintained accounts, the vast majority of which have not previously been disclosed, for at least 99 individuals who were either senior Nazi officials in Germany or members of Nazi-affiliated groups in Argentina.
- Seventy Argentine accounts with plausible links to Argentina-based Nazis were opened with Credit Suisse after 1945, and at least 14 of those accounts remained open into the 21st century—some even as recently as 2020.
- AlixPartners identified 21 accounts from a list of notorious high-level Nazis provided by SWC, including one that belonged to a Nazi commander who was sentenced at Nuremberg and another belonging to an SS commander who was convicted. The sentenced commander’s account remained open until 2002, but the bank has not yet provided asset information from this account or from 85 other identified accounts.
- The bank maintained accounts belonging to a German executive who was tried and acquitted at Nuremberg and a Nazi scientist who was imprisoned throughout the Nuremberg trials, among other accounts the bank had not previously discovered.
- A senior SS officer and representative for Nazi company Deutsche Wirtschaftsbetriebe GmbH (DWB) held an account at the bank.
Barriers to Complete Investigation
- In June 2022, Credit Suisse’s newly-hired General Counsel Markus Diethelm temporarily paused the review after being briefed on the investigation. While AlixPartners was allowed to continue its work in October 2022, Mr. Barofsky received a termination notice in November 2022. Neither Mr. Diethelm’s predecessor nor AlixPartners had expressed any concerns with Mr. Barofsky’s performance. AlixPartners described its relationship with Mr. Barofsky to Committee staff as “professional.”
- While Mr. Barofsky’s contract required that he produce a public report on his findings, the Committee obtained the report only after issuing a subpoena. Credit Suisse continues to object to its release despite the subpoena, and it has taken actions that have led Mr. Barofsky to decline to produce his entire report without certain redactions.
- Credit Suisse did not review and investigate all relevant records and did not use a full dataset of the bank’s predecessor entities for portions of its review. As one example of the bank’s failure to review all relevant records, a record belonging to a Nazi living in Bolivia was excluded from the review because search parameters set by the bank automatically excluded accounts belonging to individuals in certain geographical areas, including Bolivia. Even after the discovery, Credit Suisse did not expand the search parameters. Legal entities were also excluded, potentially eliminating additional individuals and accounts associated with identified legal entities from the review.
- Despite SWC’s request, Credit Suisse refused to review whether Nazi heirs had sought access to bank accounts.
- During the investigation, Credit Suisse and Mr. Barofsky jointly reviewed four historical books on Nazi Ratline activities and together identified 366 names of individuals that Mr. Barofsky suggested be included in AlixPartners’s forensic review of Nazi-related accounts held at Credit Suisse. The bank, however, declined to add the names to the review despite, according to AlixPartners in conversations with Committee staff, the technical ease of doing so. As a result of the Committee’s investigation, Credit Suisse has pledged to further investigate its potential role in supporting Ratlines activities.
AlixPartners has indicated that, under its engagement with Credit Suisse, it will conduct a supplementary review that includes, among other things: (i) identifying the value of assets of certain accounts apparently held by Nazis at Credit Suisse during the post-1945 period that it identified during its first review; and (ii) exploring Credit Suisse’s alleged support for Nazis fleeing justice following WWII via Ratlines.
Credit Suisse Maintained Nazi-Linked Accounts into 21st Century, Subpoenaed Records Show, United States Committee on the Budget, (April 18, 2023).
Report of the Independent Ombudsperson and Independent Advisor to Credit Suisse, Senate Budget Committee, (February 15, 2023).
First AlixPartners Investigation Report: Independent investigation of specific topics and questions raised by SWC related to the Second World War era, AlixPartners, (March 31, 2023)