Court moves on Gypsy holocaust suit against IBM

A Swiss court has opened the path for hearings in a $US12 billion lawsuit against IBM by a group representing Gypsy victims of the Holocaust. On Monday, almost one year to the day since a lawsuit against IBM was filed by Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action (GIRCA), an association of more than 600 Gypsy organisations, the court has ruled that preliminary hearings can proceed, according to a statement issued on behalf of GIRCA by the group's lawyer, Henri-Philippe Sambuc.

The case was formerly registered before the 7th Chamber of the First Instance Court in Geneva, Switzerland, the statement said. GIRCA could not be immediately reached.

The suit builds on claims published in the book, IBM and the Holocaust; The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation, by Edwin Black. In the book Black argues that IBM and its subsidiaries provided the punchcard data-processing systems, known as Hollerith machines, that allowed Nazis to categorise and track concentration camp victims and that the US computer company was aware of how its equipment was being used.

About 600,000 Gypsies, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, are believed to have been killed by the Nazis during the World War II. Despite recent settlements in Germany and Switzerland involving surviving victims of the Holocaust and their descendants, Gypsies have been largely excluded from compensation plans and other funds.

The lawsuit filed by GIRCA follows an earlier suit Jewish holocaust survivors, also based on accusations by author Black.

On behalf of five Jewish holocaust survivors, the US law firm Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll PLLC filed and later dropped in 2001 a lawsuit against IBM over its alleged business ties to the Nazi German regime. By dropping the suit, the firm sought to speed payment of compensation to millions of victims of the Nazis.

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