Bank of China's logo is seen through trees at its branch office in Beijing.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A US federal court in New York has asked Belgium to compel an alleged terrorist and his wife to testify in the blockbuster Bank of China terrorism-financing case.
The two key witnesses, whose knowledge of the bank’s alleged past money laundering for Palestinian terrorist groups could break open the case, were identified as Said al-Shurafa, an alleged former Palestinian terrorist, and his wife, Reem al-Shurafa. They recently were located in Belgium, according to a report in the La Libre Belgique newspaper.
Judge Shira Scheindlin’s official request followed one by the plaintiffs – the Wultz family who lost their son Daniel Wultz at the Rosh Ha’ir restaurant terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in 2006. The court also honored the Bank of China’s desire to be present for the questioning and to have a chance to cross-examine the al-Shurafas.
“We’re pleased that the US court has issued this request,” said Lee Wolosky, one of the lead attorneys for the Wultz family from the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and a former White House counterterrorism official.
“Belgium has long been a critical ally of the United States in fighting terrorism and its financing and we look forward to Belgium’s prompt assistance.”
Last week, The Jerusalem Post received an authenticated English translation of the article (the story had not been reported yet in English or Hebrew media) filed by the Bank of China in the New York Federal Court case against it.
The La Libre Belgique article, and a New York court document affidavit of former Israeli government agent Shlomo Matalon, accuse Said of being “an operative and agent” of both Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
The report and the Matalon affidavit say that between approximately the early 2000s and 2008, funds were transferred from Iran, Syria and other places to Said’s account with the bank in Guanzhou, China, where he lived at the time. Said then transferred the funds to Islamic Jihad and Hamas, according to the report and affidavit.
According to the article and a letter from the Bank of China to the New York court, the Wultz family, including Wolosky, lost a first shot to go after the Shurafas in Belgium itself. This request from the US court is a second shot to obtain the Shurafas’ testimony.
The La Libre Belgique report said the newspaper spoke to Said and his Belgian lawyer, who dismissed any charges and any legal process to compel him to testify as doomed to fail after they won the first round in the Belgian courts. It also said that Said was deported from China in 2008 and received asylum from and has been living in Belgium since 2011.
The plaintiffs’ request to the US court claimed Reem also held an account with the bank that was allegedly used similarly to Said’s account.
The Shurafas could be even more important to the case since previous attempts by the Wultz family and Shurat Hadin - Israel Law Center – an NGO that represents 22 other plaintiffs in a parallel case – to get former Israeli government agent Uzi Shaya to testify against the bank on their behalf in New York were defeated after a dramatic legal battle.
In July, the federal court in New York delivered a major blow to the case by granting Israel’s request to block Shaya, a unique eyewitness to critical dealings with the bank, from testifying on behalf of the families.
Shaya’s testimony was considered a smoking gun that allegedly would prove the bank had known it was involved in terror financing. He and other Israeli officials met with the bank in 2005, providing them with evidence of money laundering and asking the bank to close the problematic accounts, but the bank refused to do so, court documents say.
The plaintiffs allege that Israel turned its back on them in November 2013 after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s state visit to China out of concern that the testimony would harm its business interests there.
The Prime Minister’s Office, led by former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, has said its reasons for blocking Shaya from testifying relate to the preservation of classified security information and international cooperation in fighting terror financing.
Shurat Hadin also is pursuing other avenues, such as subpoenaing former US House of Representatives majority leader Eric Cantor to testify about talks with top Israeli officials regarding the case.