The Jerusalem Post has a report earlier this week [“US Solicitor General to tell Supreme Court stance on Arab Bank terror financing case“] authored by Yonah Jeremy Bob, focusing on a massive private law action in which multiple plaintiffs are suing for civil damages the Kingdom of Jordan’s largest commercial enterprise, Arab Bank. It’s a cluster of cases that has been working its way through the US court system for a decade. The New York Times recently called it “a multibillion-dollar lawsuit [that] has provoked a significant split in the Obama administration“.
What attracted Bob’s attention is the prospect of the US Solicitor General filing an opinion with the US Supreme Court in the next few weeks, stating the US government’s position on the case, and in effect
refereeing a dispute between the US State Department on one side, and the US Justice and Treasury Departments on the other side, of how to handle the case. The case itself, which has been featured on CBS News’s Sunday Morning program, involves allegations that Arab Bank facilitated massive transfer of funds to Hamas leaders and institutions… The plaintiffs allege that Arab Bank knew that the funds related to terrorists and terror groups, and is thus, civilly liable for wrongful death damages resulting from terror attacks perpetrated using the transferred funds. [Jerusalem Post]
The court asked the US government to say how it views a ruling by the trial court that imposed penalties on Arab Bank for non-production of certain documents. Arab Bank, the defendant in these actions, has claimed it is unable to comply with court orders to produce those documents because of bank secrecy laws in certain Arab states. Arab Bank wants the US Supreme Court to reverse the ruling.
The JPost article says the Departments of Justice and the Treasury have supported the trial court’s tough line with Arab Bank on the non-production issue. They want the US Supreme Court to stay out of the case. The State Department is said to want the court to intervene on Arab Bank’s behalf for foreign policy reasons.
The Government of Jordan itself has taken the unusual step of filing its own legal brief in the case in support of the bank’s defense and in support of the US Supreme Court interceding on the bank’s behalf. Jordan’s brief cited alleged disastrous consequences to the whole country, citing statistics that the bank accounts for as high as one-third of Jordan’s stock exchange and 15% of all pension funds, if the bank is hit with a damages award which could be in the billions of dollars. Jordan also said that the Palestinian Authority could collapse as Arab Bank is one of the few institutions providing financial services in the Palestinian areas. It also implied that a major blow to Arab Bank could undermine Jordanian cooperation in the fight against terror, in the use of Jordan for a base of some military operations and in Jordan’s ability to be a stabilizing factor regarding the Syrian civil war. [Jerusalem Post today]
The article says a letter has been sent to President Barack Obama on behalf of the plaintiffs decrying the notion that
“any part of the United States government could possibly line up against US victims of terror and instead support an institution” accused of transferring funds to terrorists. The plaintiffs’ letter to Obama also said that “siding with Arab Bank now would not only be a slap in the face of every American terror victim” but it would also “set a poisonous precedent” and “shield terrorists’ financial information” from the US courts… [Jerusalem Post]
Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary Magazine earlier this month, fiercely criticizes what he describes as the State Department position: