Thursday, July 14, 2011
Israeli terror victims suing Bank of China for Hamas ties
Israel Law Center claims bank "aided, abetted terror" by providing wire transfers for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
A judge in the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled Friday that a lawsuit filed by a group of 84 Israeli terror victims against the Bank of China can proceed.
The plaintiffs, who include family members of victims of terrorist bombings and rocket attacks carried out by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in 2006 and 2007, are claiming that the Bank of China facilitated the attacks by providing wire transfer services to both terror groups. The group lawsuit, known as the “Almaliakh action” after Emil Almaliakh, an Eilat resident killed in a suicide bombing in 2007, has been filed with the assistance of the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin) and New York attorney Robert Tolchin.
Attorney Nitsana Darshan- Leitner of the Israel Law Center told The Jerusalem Post that Friday’s ruling is a “huge precedent” for Israeli victims of terror.
“Usually, US citizens have the right to file lawsuits in the US courts against terror organizations and organizations that sponsor terror,” said Leitner.
“In this suit, we made use of old laws that allow non-US citizens to also sue [in the US courts] in the case of terrorism.”
The US has designated both Islamic Jihad and Hamas as “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” since 1997 and as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” since 2001. As such, both groups are subject to strict economic sanctions intended to prevent them from conducting banking activities which help them finance their attacks.
Those named in the lawsuit claim that the Bank of China aided and abetted Hamas and Islamic Jihad since 2003 by providing wire transfer services to operatives of the two groups via a bank account in China.
They allege that Hamas operatives received money to the account from Hamas’s headquarters in Syria and then transferred it to Gaza.
Between that date and January 2007, the Bank of China carried out dozens of wire transfers for the two terror organizations, totaling several million dollars.
Most of the transfers, which were initiated by the two organizations’ leaderships including in Iran and Syria, were made to a single account in Guangzhou, China, belonging to Said al-Shurafa, whom the plaintiffs claim is a senior operative and agent of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
According to information provided by the plaintiffs, Shurafa then transferred the funds from his account to the Islamic Jihad and Hamas coffers in the West Bank and Gaza “for the purpose of planning, preparing for and executing terrorist attacks.” The plaintiffs additionally claim that when officials of the counterterrorism division of the Prime Minister’s Office warned the Bank of China in April 2005 that the funds were being used to finance terror attacks, and asked that they prevent further transfers, the Bank of China ignored the request.
“The Bank of China responded that Hamas is not considered a terrorist organization in China,” added Darshan-Leitner.
The plaintiffs also claim that the Bank of China should have known the funds were being used illegally even before the Israeli government warning, because the transfers were made in cash, mostly in the range of $100,000, and withdrawn immediately.
The plaintiffs are suing the Bank of China because they claim that the bank’s assistance with the wire transfers is the proximate cause of their injuries.
According to Darshan-Leitner, the Bank of China argued aggressively in court for the immediate dismissal of the lawsuit.
Among the bank’s claims for dismissal was that the case should be tried in China, not the US.
However, Friday’s ruling overturned an attempt by the Bank of China to dismiss the suit, paving the way for the case to proceed to the discovery and trial stage.
In her report, Judge Barbara R. Kapnick of the New York District Supreme Court wrote that to dismiss the action in favor of it being tried in a Chinese court would “only increase the hardship” of the plaintiffs.
The next step for the Israeli plaintiffs will be to demand detailed information from the Bank of China.
“The Bank of China will now have to provide us with details of all bank transactions, basically everything that went through the accounts,” noted Darshan-Leitner.
She says that the Israel Law Center is confident that the plaintiffs can win the lawsuit.
“We have all the evidence that the money came from Syria and was transferred to Hamas,” she noted. “We will be able to convince the jury that the Bank of China aided and abetted terrorist organizations, that they were negligent and that they will have to compensate the victims.”
If the case is successful, Darshan- Leitner believes it will lead to similar suits from other Israeli victims of terror.
“It will open the door for other Israelis to file lawsuits in the US,” she concluded.
The next hearing in the case is set to be heard in the New York District Supreme Court on September 14.
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