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ZURICH, Switzerland (Reuters) - Swiss insurers said Tuesday domestic law barred them from letting U.S. officials examine their books for dormant policies of Holocaust victims, but they remained willing to help search for any people owed money.

They rejected criticism from U.S. officials that Swiss insurers were covering up their wartime past and insisted they would cooperate as much as possible with regulators in Switzerland and individuals seeking recompense. They also said they were cooperating an independent commission of historians, led by Swiss professor Jean-Francois Bergier, who are looking into the country's World War II past.

"Due to the Swiss law we are not able to give access to our files to foreign officials, but we are willing to open our files, as we have demonstrated on a daily basis, to the Bergier commission or to special requests from insured persons as well," Rolf Buergin, spokesman for Baloise Holding said.

"And we are always open and remain open if there is an international commission which is given a green light by the federal cabinet," Buergin added.

Baloise is one of three Swiss insurers who have come under U.S. scrutiny for their handling of Holocaust-era policies. U.S. officials are trying to force them to open their books from the period.

The other two are Winterthur, now part of Credit Suisse group, and Zurich
Insurance. They are among several European insurers being sued in the United States
by a group of Holocaust victims and their families who allege the companies withheld, hid or stole the proceeds of insurance policies sold before 1946. Their lawyers want class-action status for the lawsuit, estimating it could affect 10,000 claimants and involve billions of dollars in damages.

"We are ready to cooperate in every way, not just with commissions or authorities but above all with people who have questions about policies," Winterthur spokeswoman Anna-Marie Kappeler said.

"One could get the impression that insurers are blocking things or doing nothing or want to cover something up. This is not the case. On the contrary," she said.

She dismissed criticism likening Swiss insurers to Swiss banks who were accused of stonewalling Holocaust victims and their heirs seeking the return of their dormant wartime wealth.

"We have always searched actively. This is not something new, but of course we have stepped up this activity since 1995 because of these discussions" about the Holocaust, she said.

A Zurich spokeswoman also confirmed the group was prepared to cooperate in ways that Swiss law allowed.


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