US gov’t opposes forcing Iran to reveal assets

Top lawyer accuses Department of Justice of "aiding and abetting" state-sponsored terror after it files amicus brief.

Iranian Flag (R)_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Iranian Flag (R)_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Lawyers for American victims of a Hamas triple suicide bombing who successfully sued Iran for damages have slammed the US Department of Justice’s backing of a court ruling preventing the plaintiffs from obtaining information about Iran’s US-based assets, The Jerusalem Post learned this week.
The lawsuit, Rubin v. The Islamic Republic of Iran, first made headlines in 2003 when the US District Court in Washington, DC, awarded 33-year-old American Daniel Miller and other victims seriously wounded in the attack $71.5 million in compensatory damages from Iran.
The court ruled that Iran was responsible for the attack, because it had provided funding and training to Hamas.
However, in the nine years since that ruling, Miller and the other plaintiffs have been unable to obtain justice from the Islamic Republic, because the Iranian government has refused to pay out the damages.
In an odd twist of events, the lawsuit has led to accusations recently that the US government is supporting Iran by filing court briefs in support of Tehran’s decision to hide its assets and avoid paying Miller and the other victims.
After the 2003 court ruling awarding them compensation from Iran, Miller and the other plaintiffs served the Islamic Republic with a request to produce documents regarding all of its US-based assets.
Iran, which had previously refused to appear in US court, immediately hired a lawyer and sought a protective order to shield its US assets from the terror victims’ discovery requests.
Eventually, the US Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Iran and concluded that the terror victims could not obtain information about all Iranian assets in the US, and that instead they could only seek discovery about specific Iranian property.
In what is set to be a landmark decision this month, the US Supreme Court is expected to decide by June 25 whether to review the Court of Appeals ruling denying Miller access to information about Iranian assets.
Late last month, in a move that has provoked anger among terror victims, the US Department of Justice filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Court of Appeals ruling was correct.
“Compelling a foreign state to produce extensive material pertaining to its assets may impose significant burdens and impugn the state’s dignity, and may have implications for the United States’ foreign relations,” the Department of Justice brief reads.
Theodore Olson, a former US solicitor-general and the lawyer representing Miller, slammed the US government over its position on the matter, saying it was “aiding and abetting Iranian terrorism by supporting Iran’s attempts to conceal its assets,” because Congress had passed laws permitting terrorist victims to sue state sponsors of terror as a way to deter terrorism.
“It is outrageous that the [US] State Department would support Iran’s efforts to evade a judgment properly entered by a United States court in favor of American citizens,” Olson told the Post.
Olson said that the question of whether Iran financed the Hamas terrorist attacks that devastated Miller’s life and those of his fellow victims was not in dispute.
“Iran is unquestionably liable to pay the victims of its crimes, but it has made every effort to avoid paying by repeatedly concealing its assets,” he said.
“The victims in our case simply seek what every other judgment creditor is entitled to obtain: The identity and location of the judgment debtor’s assets,” he added.
Olson said Miller and the other victims faced a “critical difficulty,” in that they cannot begin attachment proceedings to obtain the damages they were awarded, if they are unable to locate Iranian assets in the US.
“The [Obama] administration’s position that Daniel cannot receive even this minimal discovery about the location of Iranian assets prevents him from even attempting to recover his judgment against Iran,” Olson told the Post.
The issue of victims of Iranian- sponsored terror being unable to locate Iranian assets to pay US court rulings against the Islamic Republic extends far beyond the case of Rubin v. The Islamic Republic.
Courtroom victories by victims of terror against Iran have highlighted the extent to which the Islamic Republic funds Palestinian terror in Israel and neighboring territories.
Last month, the US District Court awarded a $332m. judgment against Iran and Syria to the family of a 16-year-old boy, Daniel Wultz, who died of horrific injuries in a 2006 Hamas suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
In March, the same court awarded two victims of the 1983 US Marine barracks bombing in Beirut $44.6m. in damages from Iran.
In 2007, a US federal judge ruled in a separate lawsuit, Peterson v. Iran, that Iran must pay $2.65 billion to the families of servicemen killed in the Beirut attack, the largest nonnuclear explosion on earth at that time.
However, although plaintiffs in all these cases have actively sought Iranian assets that could be seized to pay the court-awarded damages, they have so far been unsuccessful.
At the same time as lawyers for the Rubin v. Iran plaintiffs are fighting their case in the US Supreme Court, other terror victims and their supporters are pushing forward a bipartisan bill which would subject Iranian assets to US court jurisdiction, thereby releasing them to pay against judgements of lawsuits brought against the Islamic Republic.
In recent months, lawyers in the Peterson v. Iran suit have attached nearly $2b. in Iranian debt-securities, which sits frozen in a Citibank account in New York.
Allegedly, Luxembourg-based clearing house and bank Clearstream is holding the money, which came to light last November after the Peterson plaintiffs sued Clearstream over the assets.
Clearstream denies holding funds for Iran, while Citibank is fighting for the courts to unfreeze the $2b.
Meanwhile, Olson said that the only issue now at stake for the Rubin v. Iran case in the US Supreme Court is whether Miller and the other terror victims can obtain basic information about Iranian assets in the US.
“Iran has refused to provide even this basic discovery, which the victims need in order to determine which assets might be subject to attachment,” he concluded.
“If the issue arose in the future whether the victims are permitted to attach any particular asset – cultural asset or otherwise – Iran would have the right to assert any objections it might have at the time.”