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Computer giant IBM said Monday it had asked Switzerland’s highest court to block a lawsuit by Gypsies claiming the company’s punch-card machines helped the Nazis commit mass murder more efficiently. IBM’s lawyers have asked the Federal Tribunal to overturn a Geneva court ruling that allowed the case to proceed, said Brian Doyle, a spokesman for the Armonk, N.J.-based firm. “Beyond that we don’t comment on pending litigation,” Doyle told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. A Gypsy group filed the lawsuit after a 2001 book claimed the company’s punch-card machines enabled the Nazis to make their killing operations more efficient. The group, known as Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action, claims the Geneva office was IBM’s hub for trade with the Nazis — something the company has denied. The company has consistently denied it was in any way responsible for the way its machines were used in the Holocaust, and Doyle declined to address the allegations. “Those matters are best addressed in court and not in the media,” he said. Last year, a lower court in Geneva decided it didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case, saying IBM only had an “antenna” in the Swiss city during World War II. But in June, the city’s appeals court said this decision was wrong, noting that Geneva’s archives showed that IBM opened an office in 1936 under the name “International Business Machines Corporation New York, European Headquarters.” The appeals court said it couldn’t rule out “IBM’s complicity through material or intellectual assistance to the criminal acts of the Nazis.” The Gypsies’ lawyers maintain that the company’s Geneva office continued to coordinate Europe-wide trade with the Nazis, acting on clear instructions from IBM’s world headquarters in New York. The Gypsy group sued IBM for “moral reparation” and US$20,000 (euro16,650) each in damages on behalf of four Gypsies, or Roma, from Germany and France and one Polish-born Swedish Gypsy. All five plaintiffs were orphaned in the Holocaust. The lawsuit was filed after U.S. author Edwin Black — in his book “IBM and the Holocaust” — said the punch-card machines were used to codify information about people sent to concentration camps. The number 12 represented a Gypsy inmate, while Jews were recorded with the number 8. The code D4 meant a prisoner had been killed. In addition to 6 million Jews, the Nazis are believed to have killed around 600,000 Gypsies, although Roma groups say the number could have been as high as 1.5 million. IBM’s German division has paid into Germany’s government-industry initiative to compensate people forced to work for the Nazis during the war. In April 2001, a class action lawsuit against IBM in New York was dropped after lawyers said they feared it would slow down payments from the German Holocaust fund. German companies had sought freedom from legal actions before committing to the fund. The Geneva case is the first Holocaust-related action against IBM in Europe, said Henri-Philippe Sambuc, the Gypsies’ lawyer. The Federal Tribunal could rule on IBM’s appeal as early as November, he told AP. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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