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Computer giant IBM will have to face a trial in a Swiss court over a lawsuit by Gypsies claiming the company’s punch-card machines helped the Nazis commit mass murder more efficiently, the plaintiffs’ attorney said Thursday. Switzerland’s Federal Tribunal — the country’s supreme court in Lausanne — rejected IBM’s appeal against a lower court ruling that IBM had a case to answer in Geneva, lawyer Henri-Philippe Sambuc said. Details of the Dec. 29 ruling were only made public Thursday. “We don’t discuss pending litigation, but we continue to believe the case is without merit,” said John Bukovinsky, an IBM spokesman. 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 rejected. The New York-based firm also has consistently denied it was in any way responsible for the way its machines were used in the Holocaust. In 2003, 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 last year, 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 supreme court upheld the appeals court ruling. 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. 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. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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