NGO threatens to sue Citibank as ‘pay for slay’ terrorist funds conduit

Allowing such “pay for slay” funds to pass through its accounts could expose Citibank to both civil and criminal liability under the US Anti Terrorism Act.

Citibank (photo credit: ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS)
Shurat Hadin announced on Thursday that it has sent a threat letter to Citibank to cut off the Bank of Palestine and affiliated institutions involved in “pay for slay” payments or face lawsuits in court.
The threatened lawsuit comes as the NGO viewed governmental efforts in both the US and Israel as not effective enough to actually stop the payments.
Rather, Shurat Hadin views efforts to date as merely compelling the Palestinian Authority to configure its method of payment in a more complex fashion.
In the letter, Shurat Hadin president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner writes to Citibank that, “imprisoned Palestinian terrorists or their families receive monthly salaries and stipends” from the PA relating to suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, “which are transferred through the Bank of Palestine and the Palestinian banking system.”
“The PA incentivizes killing Jews and Israelis by regularly providing such financial rewards to all imprisoned Palestinian terrorists, including those from Hamas, which has been a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization ('FTO') in the United States since 1997,” says the letter.
Next, the NGO writes that as a correspondent bank for the Bank of Palestine – a bank that serves as a conduit to the international banking system – allowing such “pay for slay” funds to pass through its accounts could expose Citibank to both civil and criminal liability under the US Anti Terrorism Act (ATA).
Though for years, most contested lawsuits in the US against banks or countries for terrorism, failed, in 2014 a group of American plaintiffs harmed in Israel won damages against Jordan’s Arab Bank.
In 2015, in the Sokolow case, Shurat Hadin won a parallel judgment against the Palestinian Authority for American plaintiffs harmed in Israel.
The final judgment in the Sokolow decision was eventually overturned on appeal, but the legal principle of defining actions by the PA as liable for terrorism, was not reversed and remains a valid principle that can be potentially employed against Citibank if funds it receives from the Bank of Palestine can be proven to be connected to terrorism.
Israeli plaintiffs have not won a judgment in the US in similar cases to date and will have more of an uphill battle, but multiple decisions have said that Israeli anti-terror laws could theoretically be applied by US courts given the right circumstances and evidence.
In that vein, Shurat Hadin noted that “the law effective in Judea and Samaria on May 9, 2020, states that it is a criminal offense to pay a reward to anyone for committing a terrorist act and extends that liability to banks and their employees.”
Moreover, the NGO cited a report by Palestinian Media Watch that “as recently as June 1, 2020, the PA announced it would continue to pay these [pay for slay] salaries through banks active in the PA.
Although the US Taylor Force Act cannot be a basis of liability for Citibank, Shurat Hadin noted it to show Citibank that the US government has prioritized “reducing funding to the PA until it ceases this sinister practice.”
Finally, the letter says Citibank cannot plead ignorance since, “A cursory investigation would have revealed the PA and PLO’s ‘pay to slay’ program and the PA’s use of the banking system,” and that, “sanctions compliance protocols certainly placed Citibank on clear notice Hamas is a designated FTO under the ATA and sanctioned by the US.”
In 2018, UK Lawyers for Israel succeeded in getting Citibank to end its banking relationship with Defense for Children International Palestine due to that organization’s problematic relationships.