Arab Bank Plc, facing lawsuits over allegations that it aided Middle Eastern terrorists, said it asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a federal judge from imposing sanctions it claims may cause it to lose at a trial.
Jordan’s largest lender said it filed a petition today challenging the sanctions, which include instructions to jurors that they can consider the bank’s refusal to turn over certain customer records as a sign that it did business with terrorists. The Amman-based bank, which said it didn’t provide services to terrorist groups, said it was barred from handing over records under criminal laws of Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
The sanctions “gag the bank on the critical state-of-mind issue as a penalty for obedience to foreign criminal law,” the lender said in the petition, which was provided by bank representatives and couldn’t be immediately confirmed in public court filings. “The draconian sanctions here violate international comity and endanger U.S. interests in a highly volatile region.”
The bank was also told it cannot make certain arguments in its defense and must pay more than $1.3 million in fees, according to the petition.
Arab Bank took the dispute to the Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the challenge must follow a final decision in the case. The bank said the appeals court should have exercised its authority to take up the case.
Thousands of U.S. and foreign citizens have sued the bank, claiming it did business with charities that were affiliated with Hamas and Palestinian suicide bombers involved in attacks in and around Israel. The suits, consolidated before U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon in Brooklyn, New York, collectively seek hundreds of millions of dollars in civil damages for injuries and deaths from the attacks, according to the bank.
At a hearing in April, Gershon rejected the bank’s request to throw out the suits. She tentatively scheduled a portion of the cases on behalf of 296 people, including the victims of 24 separate attacks, for trial in September or October. A more definitive date hasn’t been set.
In addition to the question of sanctions, the bank also asked the appeals court to review claims filed in the cases under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreigners to sue in U.S. courts when a party violates a U.S. law. The bank argued that the court doesn’t have power to decide those claims.
Most of the 6,596 individual plaintiffs in the consolidated suits are filing claims under the Alien Tort Statute. Others are bringing claims under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows U.S. citizens to seek civil damages from parties that aid terrorists.
In November, Arab Bank won the dismissal of a separate suit filed by former Israeli government official Mati Gill, who was injured in a 2008 by a shot fired from Gaza.
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn ruled that Gill didn’t show enough evidence that the bank played a role in the attack to send the case to trial.
Filing a petition to the Supreme Court doesn’t necessarily mean the court will decide to take up the case. A very small fraction of the petitions are granted, said Gary Osen, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. The bank is doing “anything to push off the day of reckoning,” he said, declining to comment further.
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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