MA in History and English Language, Zürich University
Cunzstrasse 31 9016 St.Gallen (Switzerland)
Phone: +41 71 288 39 52
St.Gallen (Switzerland), 20th January, 2010
Richard M. Daley
Mayor of Chicago
Office of the Mayor
City Hall - 121 N. LaSalle, Room 507
Chicago, IL 60602 USA
RE: Swiss Bank Credit Suisse And Its Slavery Past
I am a Swiss historian and author of a book on Switzerland's links with slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, and from 1984 to 1994 I served on the state legislature of the Swiss canton of St.Gallen. Today I am addressing you in a matter of considerable historical, political and financial significance. Some three years ago, the involvement of the then biggest Swiss bank UBS with slavery became an issue in the City of Chicago. An article in The Chicago Sun-Times of November 3, 2006 disclosed that UBS had acknowledged slavery ties in the context of doing business with the City by managing an O'Hare Airport Bind Issue. A second Chicago newspaper, The Bond Buyer, followed suit with an article on November 7, reiterating the fact that Jakob Laurenz Gsell, co-founder of a UBS ancestor bank, had owned slaves while living in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)1836-1850.
For eminent Swiss historians it has always been clear that the now biggest Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, has a slavery past of its own. As has been proven by Herbert Lüthy (La banque protestante en France de la Révocation de l’Edit de Nantes à la Révolution, Paris 1959 and 1961), the Commission of Interest or "Zinskommission Leu" in 1760 participated in a loan taken out by the Danish crown in order to establish themselves on the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. And, as has been proven by Julius Landmann (Leu & Co. 1755-1905: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der öffentlichen und privaten Kredit-organisation, Zürich 1905) and Hans Conrad Peyer (Von Handel und Bank im alten Zürich, Zürich 1968), the same "Zinskommission Leu" in 1768 granted a Danish private company a credit, accepting slave-plantations on St. Croix as security. "Zinskommission Leu" later turned into private bank Leu & Co., which is now owned by Credit Suisse under the name of Clariden Leu.
Unlike UBS, who after the above-mentioned media coverage in Chicago commissioned their own corporate historian Urs Alfred Müller-Lhotska to shed light on Jakob Laurenz Gsell's slavery past, resulting in the publication of Jakob Laurenz Gsell 1815-1896. Vom Unternehmer in Rio de Janeiro zum Bankier in St.Gallen – Globalisierung im 19. Jahrhundert (Zurich 2008), Credit Suisse seem altogether unwilling to look themselves in the mirror. In their letter of 15 August, 2007 to two senior historians of Zürich University carrying out research into Zürich's connections with slavery and the slave trade on behalf of the City Council, Credit Suisse Group's Central Corporate Archive communicated their decision to deny access to the documents pertaining to transactions carried out by the "Zinskommission Leu" in the context of Danish colonial policy and slavery on the Danish West Indies. Although the issue has meanwhile been addressed by Zürich's City Council, whose majority have commissioned the Mayor of Zürich to enter into negotiations with the CEO of Credit Suisse by voting on private member's move "2007/535 Slavery – Historical research into the archives of former Bank Leu & Co., submitted by councillors Anja Recher (AL) and Peider Filli (AL), signed by 13 city councillors", the doors of the said archives have remained barred.
These days, Brady W. Dougan, CEO of Credit Suisse , and Walter B. Kielholz, Chairman of Credit Suisse Group, will both receive a copy of this letter together with a number of requests for the archives to be opened. The requests are from:
=> Karfa Diallo, president of Diverscité / European Slave Trade Memorial Foundation, Bordeaux-based lawyer of Senegalese origin => Mandu dos Santos Pinto, president of Sankofa – Platform for People of African Heritage, Zurich-based architect and urban planner of Angolan origin
=> Alex Frank Larsen, Danish journalist, film-maker, researcher into the history of the Danish West Indies
=> Konrad Kuhn, MA in history, Swiss historian at Zurich University and author of a study into Zurich's links with slavery
Moreover, these requests also have the undivided support of Shelley Moorhead of St. Croix (US Virgin Islands), who is president of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance (ACRRA).
The aforementioned Credit Suisse managers will be asked to forward the said requests to Hans Nützi, CEO of Clariden Leu, in order for access to the archives to be granted.
Considering the importance of the matter outlined above and mindful of the necessity to come to terms with the painful past shared by Europe, Africa and the New World, I therefore ask you, Mr Mayor, to clarify in the context of Chicago's Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance of October 2, 2002 whether the City of Chicago is or has been doing business with Credit Suisse and, should that be the case, to require the bank to refrain from concealing their links with slavery and to that end grant a commission of independent historians and researchers access to their corporate archives in order to give an account on whether or not the bank has profited from slavery.
Let me add that, should this request be of no avail, I am willing to explore judicial proceedings and/or to summon support among African-American members of Chicago City Council.
I look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely,
Enclosures (4): Copies of requests by Messrs Diallo, dos Santos Pinto, Larsen, and Kuhn
Brady W. Dougan, CEO of Credit Suisse
Hans-Ulrich Doerig, Chairman of Credit Suisse Group
A selection of Swiss and international media
A number of transatlantic historians and activists in the field of slavery