After over nine years of legal drama, lawsuits against the Bank of China (BOC) over alleged involvement in funneling money to Palestinian terror organizations have been dismissed.
The cases, brought by families of individuals who were killed in terror attacks between 2004 and 2007, had hoped to draw on a long record of Israeli intelligence showing that the bank’s accounts were used to transfer funds from Iran to Islamic Jihad and other organizations directly connected to the attacks. The plaintiffs accused the government-owned BOC of continually ignoring a series of large wire transfers to Palestinian terror groups from an account in its branch in Guangzhou, despite clear requests from the Israeli government to stop those transfers.
Nevertheless, the cases were summarily dismissed this past August. Attorneys for the plaintiffs and BOC jointly issued a statement obtained by Hamodia saying that the case could no longer be pursued because: “The governments of Israel, China and the United States each made sovereign decisions, based on their stated national security and other policy concerns, not to provide testimony.”
Lawyers on both sides were not able to discuss details of the case, citing a gag order. Robert Tulchin, a central attorney for the plaintiffs, offered some general comments.
“All I can suggest is speculation that Israel’s interests evolved over the years. Israel’s relationship with China is not what it was when the case began,” he said.
Several other attorneys for the plaintiffs did not respond to Hamodia’s requests for interviews, and Mark Sullivan, a member of the BOC legal team, said that he would “not comment on litigation.”
The anticlimactic ending to what attorneys and advocates for the victims’ families portrayed as an attempt for personal justice as well as a crusade in the courts to disrupt international funding of terror in Israel was also several years in the making.
When the family of Daniel Wultz, Hy”d, an American citizen who was killed in a 2006 bombing, initiated legal action against the bank, the Israeli government was enthusiastically supportive of the family’s efforts.
Court documents showed that Israeli government official Shlomo Matalon said that a certain Said al-Shurafa was the holder of the account that was used to smuggle millions of dollars to Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and others. Uzi Shaya, an Israeli intelligence operative who had met with BOC officials and dealt extensively with the matter, was originally slated to testify in the case. The Israeli government had told the Wultzes that they were prepared to waive Shaya’s security restrictions.
Lee Wolosky, who served on the Wultz legal team, said Israel’s initial support was an attempt “to use our courts to achieve a sovereign objective.” He left the case in February after being appointed the U.S. envoy to the closing of Guantanamo Bay Prison. Shurat Hadin, an Israel-based NGO, whose mission statement is to de-fund terror organizations through legal suits, and a wide American team handled the complex cases on behalf of Wultz and several other families.
A major victory was reached in 2011 when a New York State Appeals court ruled that the case could be tried in the United States, rather than China.
The discovery phase of the case began, but from that point on substantive attempts by the plaintiffs to gather evidence were stymied as the American, Chinese, and Israeli governments refused to provide necessary documents and testimony. China denied any link to the events, stating, “While we feel for the victims and their families and abhor terrorism in all forms, Bank of China is in no way responsible or connected to these acts.” The accounts in question were all reportedly closed and China reasserted its commitment to fighting terrorism.
America and Israel mostly claimed that providing the requested evidence would violate security concerns. Several media articles and efforts by a slew of high-ranking politicians in both countries to push governments to assist in the cases proved unsuccessful.
A major blow came in 2013 when Israel retracted their offer allowing Shaya to testify. In light of his intimate knowledge of intelligence on the matter, gleaned from many trips to China and meetings with BOC officials, he had been seen as the prosecution’s key witness. Speculation ran high that Israel’s reversal was connected to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s state visit to China and a broadening of business relations between the two nations.
An official statement from the Israeli government vehemently denied accusations, saying that they were “unequivocally incorrect.” In advance of the prime minister’s address to Congress on the Iran nuclear deal, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen accused Netanyahu of betraying the Wultzes and other victims of terror in a game of realpolitik.
In August, lawyers for both the BOC and the plaintiffs signed a 12-page stipulation of dismissal detailing that, due to “non-cooperation” of the governments involved, the cases were being dropped “with prejudice,” meaning that the claims could not be raised again. The documents detail the plaintiff’s basic claims and thwarted attempts to gather evidence as well as disclosure regarding lack of jurisdiction in the State of New York. It states that plaintiffs wish to raise a “political question” based on what they perceive as obstruction on the part of the three governments. The dismissal of the cases, which had garnered a good deal of media attention since their introduction, was not reported until a Jerusalem Post article broke the development earlier this week.
When asked whether Israel had achieved its goals in shutting down the pipeline by diplomatic means, making the security compromises involved in the case unnecessary, attorney Robert Tulchin was skeptical as to whether the goal had been achieved. He asked if the objective “was these accounts or the phenomenon [of funneling foreign money to terrorists] in general?”