(photo credit: )
The head of the state corporation charged with seeking out heirs of unclaimed assets belong to Holocaust victims in Israel has called on the government to freeze the privatization of Bank Leumi until it transfer funds belonging to Holocaust victims to their heirs.
"It appears that the bank is doing everything in its power to drag us into a lengthy legal dispute," the corporation's chairman, Avraham Roet, wrote Thursday in a letter to Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, who has been charged with overseeing the sale of the state's controlling shares in Bank Leumi. The corporation was established by Knesset legislation last year.
Roet said the legal wrangling was liable to drag on until the survivors or their immediate families were no longer alive.
Roet, a Holocaust survivor himself, said that six months of negotiations with Bank Leumi, Israel's second largest bank, had been fruitless.
Tens of millions of shekels are believed to have been entrusted to Bank Leumi by Holocaust victims before World War II, corporation spokesman Amir Dan said.
"It is absurd and ironic that specifically in the State of Israel the issue of Holocaust property restitution has been neglected for dozens of years, and now after such a law has finally been legislated indifference still reins," Dan said.
Some 9,000 bank accounts of Holocaust victims have been identified in Israeli banks, most of them in Bank Leumi, he added.
A Bank Leumi spokesman was not available for comment Saturday night.
A spokesman for Eitan said that he had not yet received the letter.
"The minister and his staff are looking into the issue of Bank Leumi's obligations to Holocaust survivors, and the minister will announce his decision at the end of the investigation," Eitan's spokesman said.