US court upholds Arab Bank sanction in Hamas finance case

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A US appeals court on Friday let stand a sanction against Arab Bank for failing to turn over documents in a lawsuit accusing it of providing banking services to Hamas and other US-designated terrorist groups.

The ruling applies to a group of cases pending in a US federal court in Brooklyn, New York. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of US citizens and foreign nationals who were the victims, or family members of victims, of militant attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories between 1994 and 2005.

Currently, more than 100 families and 700 individuals are seeking more than US$1bn in damages from Jordan-based Arab Bank in the lawsuits, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

Friday's decision, handed down by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, stems from the original case, filed in 2004, which has been consolidated with related lawsuits for pre-trial matters. It is expected to go to trial later this year.

The 2nd Circuit said it has no standing to hear Arab Bank's appeal until the case was resolved by the lower court. The sanction, ordered by US District Judge Nina Gershon in 2010, means the jury in the case can consider the missing documents in their verdict.

Arab Bank said in a statement that it is considering its appeals options and "continues to believe that the district court's sanctions order raises serious issues of international concern."

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Gary Osen, said he was pleased with the appeals court's decision in the long-running case.

Gershon ordered the sanction after the plaintiffs asked the bank to turn over account information relating to groups known to be, or suspected of being, linked to the designated terrorist groups. Arab Bank withheld some of the requested documents, saying that foreign bank secrecy laws prohibited their disclosure.

Gershon's sanction would allow jurors to infer, if they wished, that the bank's failure to produce those documents meant that it had knowingly provided financial services to designated terrorist organizations.

Arab Bank appealed, saying Gershon's punishment was overly harsh and that the bank was being forced to choose between running afoul of the US court or violating bank secrecy laws in Lebanon, Jordan and other countries where it operated.

The 2nd Circuit panel said its decision would not preclude a future appeal of the sanctions order.

The case is Linde v. Arab Bank, 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 10-4519 and 10-4524.

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