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Big Hike In Holocaust Settlement Plan

Dutch banks and the Amsterdam stock exchange are now proposing to pay more than $132 million to settle claims they helped the Nazis steal bank accounts and stocks from Jews.

That's according to a source close to the negotiations, who notes that the new amount is over five times the amount initially proposed to settle claims that they helped the Nazis steal bank accounts and stocks from Jews.

The source close to the Holocaust talks, who declined to be named, said, "They are close to a settlement." Later, he added, "They now are offering in excess of 300 million guilders; previously they had only offered 58 million guilders (nearly $25 million)."

A spokesman for Alan Hevesi, the New York City comptroller who leads a group of 900 public finance officers that has considered giving Dutch banks and the Amsterdam bourse a 30-day deadline, was not available to comment.

World Jewish Congress executive director Elan Steinberg, who has been consulting with Dutch Jewish groups on how Holocaust claims should be handled, refused to release any details but does confirm that there has been progress in the talks, crediting Hevesi for the forward motion. "The city comptroller has done it again. His active intervention has hopefully brought us now much nearer to a settlement."

Steinberg explained the proposed settlement with Dutch banks and the Amsterdam bourse includes an apology by the Dutch banks for helping the Nazis steal the assets of Jews, and a promise to undertake a new investigation of the role they played in the war years.

Hevesi in 1998 helped push Swiss banks into reaching a historic settlement of nearly $1.3 billion to resolve charges they blocked Holocaust survivors from withdrawing prewar deposits by demanding impossible proofs, such as death certificates from concentration camps.

A settlement of the Dutch financial institutions' obligations to Jews whose assets were stolen during World War II would have the further impact of clearing the way for a merger affecting three companies.

ING, Europe's fifth-largest financial institution, plans to buy the Minnesota-based insurance company ReliaStar Financial Corporation, as well as the international and financial assets of Connecticut-based Aetna, the number one health insurer in the United States. Officials in both Minnesota and Connecticut have said they would take Holocaust claims into account in considering buyouts of U.S. firms by Dutch companies.

Financial heavyweight ING had faced a double-barreled threat from the WJC because ING operates as both a bank and an insurer.

In May, concerns that ING's insurance area might still owe Holocaust survivors and heirs for prewar policies were eased when Dutch insurers, as a group, joined a panel investigating charges that Europe's insurers failed to honor such policies. Fellow Dutch institutions Aegon and Fortis also became members of the International Commission on Holocaust-era Insurance Claims.

Asked hether the WJC would stop threatening to block ING's potential acquisitions in the United States if a bank accord is reached, Steinberg replied, "I choose to be hopeful. If in fact a settlement is achieved, we will be able to withdraw our opposition to Dutch corporate acquisitions in this country."

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