A LAWYER for Arab Bank (second from right) exits the Brooklyn Federal Court in New York last month..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In protest of a New York federal court’s treatment of its witnesses, Arab Bank informed the court late Monday that it was slashing its original list of 21 witnesses to four or fewer – a move that could also pave the way for a decision in the landmark case in the coming days or week.
With four or fewer witnesses left to call, the bank rested its defense on Tuesday, with the bank and plaintiffs expected to deliver closing statements Thursday along with a final, crucial jury instruction.
The latest events could end just over four weeks of gripping proceedings against Arab Bank by 297 plaintiffs suing it for billions in damages relating to allegations of funding terrorism.
The plaintiffs allege that Arab Bank – practically Jordan’s sovereign bank and one of the largest in the Middle East, with branches in 30 countries – facilitated massive transfers of funds to Hamas leaders and institutions, as well as to the families of imprisoned Hamas members and suicide bombers, via Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah’s al-Shahid Foundation, mostly between 1998 and 2004 (though evidence has focused on 2001-2004).
The plaintiffs say Arab Bank knew the money related to terrorists and terrorist groups, and is thus civilly liable for wrongful death damages for the killing of their family members as a result of attacks perpetrated using the transferred funds.
Arab Bank has said there is a lack of proof that the funds contributed sufficiently to terrorist attacks and that the bank knew of any terrorist connection.
A main reason for the bank’s decision to withdraw witnesses was that the court had significantly limited the testimony of bank witnesses, such as excluding testimony about the bank’s compliance policies that were in effect during the case’s relevant period.
Earlier Monday, one bank employee was describing how certain types of transactions were processed, but when he tried to reference that the bank had checked local Middle East blacklists to ensure that the parties receiving funds were not on them, the plaintiffs objected, and court threw out the testimony.
The plaintiffs’ objection and the court’s ruling relate to a fateful pretrial sanctions ruling that has hung over the entire proceeding.
That sanctions ruling punished the bank for refusing to turn over certain foreign documents.
Under the ruling, the bank cannot use its compliance with Jordanian or Lebanese law – which the bank claims prohibited it from turning over the disputed documents in the first place – as a defense by saying it had properly checked Middle Eastern watch lists.
The bank has said this ruling was unfair, since the Middle Eastern bank secrecy laws had left it unable to provide the documents.
The bank’s pretrial appeal of the ruling to the US Supreme Court was rejected, but the court and the US government left open the possibility of revisiting the issue if the sanctions ruling had an improper impact on the case or foreign policy issues with Jordan.
Throughout the case, the bank has complained of the sanctions ruling’s impact and other rulings it believes are biased. It had originally been quite committed to calling its full list of witnesses to balance the anti-bank story told by the plaintiffs, who had played recordings (selectively, according to the bank) of those witnesses’ depositions.
All of the above could lay grounds for a stronger appeal post-trial to the Supreme Court should the bank lose.