NEW YORK (Reuters) - Arab Bank Plc never provided material support for the Palestinian group Hamas, a lawyer for the bank told jurors on Thursday during closing arguments at the bank’s civil trial on charges of financing terrorism.
The Jordan-based bank is accused of providing financial services to Hamas by almost 300 U.S. citizens who were the victims or family members of victims of 24 attacks purportedly carried out by the Islamic militant group in Israel and the Palestinian territories between 2001 and 2004.
The bank’s trial lawyer Shand Stephens said most people and organizations that the plaintiffs claim were affiliated with Hamas and who received banking services, were not designated by the U.S. government as terrorists during those years.
Stephens also said it was not the bank’s job to ascertain which customers were “criminals.”
“The government is supposed to designate people, and the banks react,” Stephens said in Brooklyn federal court.
But Tab Turner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the bank’s argument was deceitful and called it “the bank of the stars in the world of terrorism.”
In a lawsuit filed in 2004, the plaintiffs accused the bank of violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation. A lawyer for the plaintiffs has said the bank could be liable for millions of dollars.
Arab Bank has denied the allegations.
It contends it provided routine banking services in compliance with counter-terrorism laws and never intended to support Hamas, which the U.S. State Department designated a terrorist organization in 1997.
The case comes at a time when U.S. regulators have increased scrutiny of international banks’ cross-border transactions.
Stephens also told jurors on Thursday that it was not clear that Hamas carried out all 24 attacks, and that there was no evidence the bank caused any of them.
But Turner and two other lawyers said the bank was trying to mislead jurors, because the plaintiffs do not have to show that the bank was the sole cause of the attacks, only that it knowingly contributed to events that led to them.
Turner also reminded jurors that they could infer that Arab Bank knowingly provided financial services to designated terrorist organizations because of its failure to produce documents earlier in the case.
“You have the unique opportunity to change the world banking system today,” Turner said.
The case is Linde et al. v. Arab Bank, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 04-2799
Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Tom Brown, Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool