ARGENTINA'S former first lady, Eva Peron, may have opened Swiss bank accounts in 1947 to deposit bribes that fugitive Nazi war criminals paid for protection, an Argentine investigative journalist said yesterday.
At a conference on restitution of Jewish property looted by the Nazis, Mr Jorge Camarasa urged Swiss authorities to check if bribes paid to Argentine strongman Juan Domingo Peron by the likes of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann and "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele ended up in Swiss banks. "Peron himself was not a Nazi but one cannot say he was a fervent anti-Nazi," Mr Camarasa said, adding that Peronist Argentina was a veritable "elephant's graveyard" of war criminals who were given jobs and safety from extradition.
Eva Peron met Swiss bankers during a tour of Europe in 1947 and might have used the occasion to open accounts, he said.
Peron went to Spain after he was toppled in 1955, Mr Camarasa said, recounting how Peron had tried in vain to withdraw funds in his brother-in-law's name from one big Swiss bank. This coloured Peron's view of the Swiss.
"He said it was a hybrid country, that its citizens were bandits," said Mr Camarasa, who has written extensively about Nazis in Argentina.
Earlier a Jewish human rights group demanded a full account of why the Allies returned tonnes of gold to Austria after the second World War even though more than a million Austrians fought for Hitler.
Dr Marvin Hier of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre sought to broaden the spot-light on the wartime era to countries other than Switzerland.
Swiss authorities have begun to review the country's wartime role as a financial centre with close ties to the Nazis, the rabbi said, but now other countries must follow suit.
He said Sweden, Spain, Portugal, France, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile had to account for wealth they accumulated from Germany or confiscated from Nazi victims, but he singled out Austria for special criticism.
"We must know the truth about why Austria got such a large share of the Nazi gold" that the Allies returned to occupied countries after the war, Dr Hier said.
The Tripartite Gold Commission set up by Britain, France and the United States after the war returned some 84 billion worth of gold over five years to European central banks.
Dr Hier said Austria got 33.8 tonnes of gold from the commission in 1947 and another 12 tonnes by 1952, excluding 4.7 the US handed over to Austria in 1945.
This was to compensate Vienna for its claim on 100 tonnes of gold the Nazis transferred to the German Reichsbank after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938.
"This decision was outrageous, because that gold belonged entirely to the victims of the Holocaust," Dr Hier told the opening session of the two-day conference.
He said Washington should have told Austria: "You are not entitled to this gold because this is gold that was plundered from the victims while your country fought on the side of the plunderers."
The Allied powers agreed during the second World War to treat Austria as a victim rather than perpetrator of Nazi aggression. Austria was occupied by both Western and Soviet Allied forces in 1945 and won back its sovereignty as a Western-oriented democracy in the mid-1950s after agreeing to indefinite neutrality.