$37.5 million recovered in two class action lawsuits

September 19, 2006
Source: The Associated Press

By Alex Veiga

LOS ANGELES - Heirs of Armenians killed 91 years ago in the Turkish Ottoman Empire sued Deutsche Bank A.G. and Dresdner Bank A.G. on Friday, claiming the German banks owe them millions of dollars and other assets deposited by their ancestors.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in Superior Court on behalf of seven Armenians living in Southern California. It is the latest bid by Armenians in the United States to recover assets they believe belonged to some 1.5 million Armenians who perished in a genocide beginning in 1915.

Litigation brought against New York Life Insurance Co. by Armenian descendants led to a $20 million settlement; French life insurer AXA has agreed to pay $17 million to settle a separate class-action claim. Both lawsuits made similar allegations.

The lawsuit against the German banks seeks to recoup unspecified millions of dollars for assets such as gold, cash and jewelry that the Armenian descendants claim were deposited by thousands of their ancestors at the banks' Turkish branches or otherwise looted by the Ottoman Turkish government and later transferred to European banks.

The banks also are accused of concealing and preventing the funds from being recovered by the account holders' heirs.

"After the genocide, you had two groups of people: You had families completely wiped out and you had families who simply escaped," said Los Angeles attorney Brian Kabateck, who also is an Armenian descendant. "Neither were able to get their assets out of the bank... and 91 years later, we want to make it right."

A Deutsche Bank spokeswoman in New York declined to comment on the lawsuit. Calls to European offices of Dresdner Bank rang unanswered.

Kabateck said the suit was brought in California because of the state's progressive rules governing class-action cases and statute of limitations. Southern California also is home to an estimated half-million Armenians.

Attorney Mark Geragos, who also is of Armenian descent, said there are no statute of limitations on claims to recover funds or property deposited in a bank.

The attorneys compared their claim to attempts by Jewish victims of the Holocaust seeking reparations from Swiss banks.

Turkey rejects the claim there was an Armenian genocide, instead saying they were killed in civil unrest during the collapse of the empire.

France, Russia and many other countries have declared the killings genocide. Turkish allies including the United States and neighboring Azerbaijan have not.

Turkey, which has no diplomatic ties with Armenia, is facing increasing international pressure to fully acknowledge the event as it seeks membership in the European Union.