Terror victims sue French bank over 1998 Nairobi attack

By: OTIATO GUGUYU

A French multinational bank has been accused in a lawsuit of playing a role in the financing of the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998.

Sixty victims of the bombings and their families have sued BNP Paribas SA (BNPP) for $2.4 billion (Sh245 billion) compensation.

According to a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the survivors want BNPP and some of its subsidiaries that were used to transfer funds used by Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists in the planning and execution of the attack held to account.

The bank circumvented US sanctions on Sudan, Iran and Cuba and lied to US law enforcement about its operations in those countries.

The case has been filed by the Fay Kaplan Law Firm, which won a similar case against Sudan and Iran for damages arising from the twin attacks on the embassies in Nairobi and Dar that killed 200 Kenyans, 12 Americans and 10 Tanzanians.

“Anybody who uses financial sleights of hand to profit from supporting terrorism should realise that shell games are for entertainment. There’s nothing entertaining about terrorism financing,” said lawyer Thomas Fay in the suit.

The lawyers argue that the bank “knowingly and intentionally” provided the terrorists “money, material support, and resources” they used to plan and execute the bombing in Dar and Nairobi on August 7, 1998.

PLEAD GUILTY

US authorities fined BNPP last year for essentially functioning as the “central bank for the government of Sudan”, concealing its tracks and failing to cooperate when first contacted by law enforcement.

The French bank pleaded guilty and was fined $9 billion in July 2014 for violating US sanctions against Sudan, Cuba and Iran.

The lawyers argue that by pleading guilty in the 2014 case, the French bank had admitted to playing a role in financing Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah-backed terrorist events, in which more than 4,000 were injured.

Fay Kaplan argues in the suit that during this period, Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists who carried out the attacks transacted money through BNP Paribas SA and its wholly owned subsidiaries BNP Paribas North America Inc and BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA.

“On July 9, 2014, BNP Paribas pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to one count felony Information alleging Conspiracy to Violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act ” reads the suit filed by Mr Fay, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

They say the bank violated the US Anti-Terrorism Act, which permits victims killed or injured by acts of terror against Americans to collect treble damages.

The law is aimed at thwarting support for terrorist organisations, which it defines as Specially Designated Nationals.

“The defendantsconspired together and with each other, with the government of Sudan, banks and other entities controlled by Sudan as well as with terrorist organisations operating in Sudan, including Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, to intentionally and wilfully move millions of dollars through the US financial system on behalf of these sanctioned entities in violation of US sanctions laws” the suit alleges.

PUNITIVE DAMAGES

Mr Fay has moved against the bank following his success in getting a ruling to seize the assets of Sudan and Iran to compensate victims of the attacks.

In 2011, US judge John Bates ruled that Sudan and Iran were liable for aiding the terrorists and should pay the victims after a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allowed non-US nationals employed by the US government to sue a state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran, through Hezbollah, was found guilty of providing explosives and training to Al-Qaeda at camps in south Lebanon while Sudan provided the terror outfit, including Bin Laden, with a “safe haven” while the attacks were being planned.

In April last year, Judge Bates awarded $907 million in damages to the people who were employed by the US government at the time — Kenyans, Tanzanians and Americans.

However, over 500 Kenyans were locked out of the payment as they were not working for the US embassy at the time of the attack and were thus not covered in the 2008 amendment.

In September 25 last year, US Magistrate Judge John Facciola ruled that the six Kenyans individuals included in a “bellwether trial” conducted in 2011 are each entitled to $150 million in punitive damages.

The rest, who have been left frustrated, held demonstrations in the run-up to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in July seeking President Barack Obama’s intervention to have them compensated on humanitarian grounds.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION