Swiss bankers Monday published a list of nearly 21,000 names of dormant accounts from the World War II era that may have belonged to victims of the Holocaust.
The new names are added to about 16,000 that were published in 1997 to help heirs of victims locate assets, said a statement by the Swiss Bankers Association.
"We expect that the assets can now be paid out to the rightful claimants as quickly as possible," said James Nason, a spokesman for the association.
The massive publication on the Internet backed up by volunteer organizations to help applicants around the world is meant to be a final step in returning assets to their rightful owners more than half a century after the end of the war.
Heirs now have six months to apply for their accounts under a claims process that began on Monday, more than four years after Holocaust families and Jewish groups first charged Swiss banks had failed to return their funds in U.S. lawsuits.
No value was given to the newly listed accounts, most of which were closed decades ago and thus are empty. Under the claims procedures different formulas can be applied to determine a value that should be paid out to any successful claimant for a closed account.
The bankers said they have no indication that the closures were anything but normal, but Jewish organizations maintain they might have been closed under duress from the Nazis or actually cleaned out by Nazis with authorization forced from Holocaust victims.
The accounts previously published that were owned by non-Swiss citizens were worth about $40.7 million.
The U.S.-supervised claims process is paying 10 times the 1945 value of the accounts, to allow for interest and appreciation.
Of the total paid out so far, $6.4 million went to 232 people identified as victims of Nazi persecution or their heirs, he noted. The rest has gone to people unrelated to the Holocaust.
The list is 600 pages long and takes three hours to print, said Nasn. He said Jewish organizations and others in different countries were set up with help-line telephone numbers to help claimants.
In New York, Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, who led a commission that subjected Swiss banks to a bruising audit, estimated it would take as long as two years for the last claimant to be paid.
Because one bank account might be claimed by more than one person, payments cannot begin until the end of the six-month application period.
The payment process hinges on the voluntary cooperation of Swiss banks. Some smaller, cantonal or territorial banks were not what Volcker called particularly aggressive about cooperating, but finally came around.
"I hope that will continue," he told reporters at a news conference.
The banks deny charges of having stonewalled on the issue, but Switzerland's two biggest banks, UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group, agreed in 1998 to pay a $1.25 billion settlement to resolve lawsuits filed by Holocaust families.
Some $800 million has been set aside for bank claims.
The clash with Swiss banks had threatened to spark U.S. boycotts of the banks and other businesses.
Recently, the fight has centered around whether Swiss banks would allow the "unfettered" access to a database of 4 million Holocaust-era accounts that New York Superintendent of Banks Elizabeth McCaul demanded.
An SBA spokesman said the list of 20,825 accounts published Monday came from a list drawn up by independent auditors led by Volcker who combed Swiss bank records for three years in search of Holocaust victims' wealth.
The list had originally contained nearly 54,000 accounts deemed probably or possibly linked to Nazi victims, but this has since been reduced to 36,000.
Swiss banking regulators have limited publication to accounts most likely to produce a match, but the remaining 15,000 are registered on a central database.
Swiss banks will also allow the 4 million-account database to be searched if claimants' names match any one of the 36,000 account holders, if they had Swiss addresses, or if they can make a reasonable and satisfactory case they owned a Swiss bank account, according to Michael Bradfield.
Bradfield, along with Volcker, will oversee the claims process. He and Volcker were appointed by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman, who presides over the $1.25 billion accord.
Some 82,000 people about half of whom live in the United States and Israel already have inquired about the settlement and they will be mailed claim forms.