By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Wednesday rejected Arab Bank Plc’s bid to overturn a jury verdict finding it liable for knowingly supporting terrorism efforts related to a series of attacks in the Middle East.
The Jordan-based bank had been accused by victims of 24 attacks in and around Israel in the early 2000s of handling transactions for Hamas, which the plaintiffs said carried out the attacks, and routing money to charities that supported Hamas or families of suicide bombers.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn, New York found “ample” evidence for jurors to conclude last Sept. 22 that Arab Bank knowingly provided services directly to senior Hamas officials such as Osama Hamdan, a well-known spokesman who often appeared on television to claim responsibility for Hamas for attacks.
Cogan also found a “cornucopia” of circumstantial evidence to show that Arab Bank knew or was “willfully blind” to the charities’ Hamas affiliations.
“The verdict was based on volumes of damning circumstantial evidence that defendant knew its customers were terrorists,” Cogan wrote in a 96-page decision.
In a statement, Arab Bank called the decision unsurprising and said rulings by Cogan would be appealed. The bank also said it maintains “sound compliance practices to prevent money laundering and terrorism finance.”
Cogan dismissed claims against Arab Bank arising from two of the 24 attacks, citing a lack of evidence that Hamas was behind them. He is expected to preside on July 13 over a trial to determine damages for three of the remaining 22 attacks.
The verdict was the first time in the United States that a bank was held civilly liable for violating the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets U.S. citizens pursue damages claims in federal court that arise from international terrorism.
Roughly 300 plaintiffs sued, including people injured in the 24 attacks or representing family members killed or injured.
Gary Osen, a lawyer for some plaintiffs, said in a phone interview he was pleased with Cogan’s decision, which “confirms that there was overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s having knowingly provided material support to Hamas.”
Damages are unclear, and could be tripled under the anti-terrorism law.
On Feb. 23, the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization were found liable by a Manhattan federal jury of charges they supported six attacks in Israel from 2002 to 2004. They were ordered to pay $655.5 million, reflecting triple damages, and plan to appeal.
(Editing by Grant McCool and Steve Orlofsky)