WASHINGTON -- Faced with the start of formal audits of their wartime accounts next week, Switzerland's banks have quietly told investigators that they recently discovered hundreds of accounts that might have belonged to Holocaust victims and thousands more that they cannot account for.
The disclosures were made last week in Jerusalem and Bern to a commission headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker.
Next week, after months of preparations and long delays, the commission will begin a series of "pilot audits" of accounts opened between 1933 and 1945 to determine how many contain deposits placed in Switzerland by Jews and others to prevent their money from falling into the hands of the Nazis.
Two years ago, the Swiss banks said they had found 775 such accounts, containing roughly $32 million.
That announcement raised a number of questions, because Switzerland's bankers had previously insisted that they had turned over the last of their unclaimed wartime deposits in 1962.
Now, the number of accounts appears much larger.
According to people familiar with the meetings between the bankers and Volcker's commission, the banks say they have found more than 1,000 accounts, totaling roughly $40 million, that were opened in the names of non-Swiss during the wartime era.
This means they have found at least 225 more accounts, worth roughly $8 million.
The discovery, they told investigators, came from banks that had not completed full surveys of accounts.
In another surprise, the Swiss now say there are 15,000 to 20,000 more dormant accounts that were opened by Swiss nationals during the war years.
In a statement released last night in response to questions, the Swiss Bankers Association said the amounts contained in those accounts are small, but it promised that "the Volcker committee will fully examine whether dormant accounts opened by Swiss citizens prior to 1945 were opened for the benefit of Holocaust victims."
"We know that a lot of people feared that they would be tortured to sign a power of attorney turning their assets over to the German government," one investigator said.
"But tracing accounts opened by third parties will not be easy."
Pub Date: 6/11/97