Lenders Don’t Decide Who’s a Terrorist, Arab Bank Argues

Governments, and not banks, decide who is or isn’t a terrorist, a lawyer for Arab Bank Plc told New York jurors as they prepare to decide if the Jordanian lender illegally aided the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Arab Bank is defending a civil trial in which victims of 24 mostly suicide-bomber attacks accuse it of helping finance terrorism by processing transactions for individuals that benefited Hamas. In closing arguments today, attorney Shand Stevens said all except one of the customers in the case weren’t designated as terrorists by the U.S., the United Nations or the European Union, he said.

“You wouldn’t want to have Google or Facebook or Wal-Mart” deciding “who belongs on a terrorist list,” Stevens told jurors in federal court in Brooklyn. “That’s not the way it works in the United States.”

The plaintiffs, who are victims of the attacks or their relatives, seek to hold the Amman-based lender responsible for assaults which occurred in the early 2000s amid a wave of violence. They say Arab Bank aided the attacks by transferring cash for Hamas operatives and handling death benefits of $5,300 each to suicide bombers’ families from a group called Saudi Committee for the Support of the Intifada Al Quds.

Arab Bank, the biggest in Jordan, argues that a verdict for the plaintiffs would “create vast uncertainty and risk in the international finance system” and undermine automated compliance systems used by the global banking industry to process trillions of dollars in transfers each day.

Designated Terrorist

In court today, Stevens said the victims wrongfully claim about 150 people who did business with the bank were terrorists, including 18 Hamas leaders. Of the 18 alleged leaders, only one had been designated a terrorist by a government, and his transaction got through due to a spelling error, he said.

The plaintiffs incorrectly claim the bank supported Hamas by doing business with a dozen charities with links to the group, including the Saudi Committee, which gave donations to the families of people killed in the conflict with Israel, including terrorists, Stevens added.

At the time, Israel’s government tracked the so-called martyrs payments and “decided to let them go,” and it is now “accusing the bank of doing something wrong,” he said.

During the trial, the bank said it followed appropriate procedures when handling transfers and that many of the alleged Hamas-related recipients were not on government blacklists.

Suicide Bombers

The bank has said it processed transfers to the Palestinian territories during that time as part of efforts to help those affected by the conflict. The plaintiffs claim the bank looked the other way while servicing Hamas operatives and making payments to families of suicide bombers.

“No government in the world interfered with what was going on,” because payments through the bank were made to help surviving families, Stevens said.

Sabih Al Masri, Arab Bank’s chairman, testified Sept. 8 that he had never heard the bank supported terrorism and that terror attacks “destroyed opportunities for peace.” Al Masri, who took over management of Arab Bank in 2012, has been forced to hide from extremists in the past and knew people who were killed by terrorists, he testified.

Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military’s Department of Palestinian Affairs and an expert witness for the victims, earlier told jurors that the bank transferred about $4 million from 2000 to 2001 to more than a dozen Hamas leaders and operatives through its New York branch.

The case is Linde v. Arab Bank Plc, 04-cv-02799, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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