A version of this article was first published by The Huffington Post on January 4, 2016.
U.S. citizens who have been victims of foreign state-organized terrorism will receive substantial compensation now with the funds coming from a surprising source, BNP Paribas, one of the largest banks in France and Europe. It is the bank that paid a record $9 billion in fines in 2014 for violating U.S. foreign sanctions laws.
This is good news for many Americans who have waited too long to be compensated. At the same time, I hope that everyone in France becomes aware of the fact that the cash being used for compensation is coming from BNP Paribas, which for years worked with such major state sponsors of terrorism as the governments of Iran and Sudan. The majority of Americans to now be paid for their suffering were the victims of the Iranians.
There is justice here. Justice for the victims. And justice that a bank that engaged in massive money laundering on behalf of rotten regimes and repeatedly violated U.S. laws should be the source of bringing some joy to the victims here in America of those regimes.
The decision to compensate the victims was taken in the midst of the U.S. Congress's recent deliberations to complete the vast $1.2 trillion 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, which President Obama signed into law on December 18, 2015. There are a few short lines on pages 1876 and 1877 of the legislation as it emerged from the U.S. House of Representatives that bring great joy to some brave Americans.
The beneficiaries include the victims, their families and estates, who were held captive for 444 days in 1979/80 at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran. There were 53 Americans who were held in Iran back in 1979 when the Shah of Persia was ousted and Ayatollah Khomeini seized power and depicted the U.S. as "the Great Satan."
Other victims now likely to receive compensation include the relatives of Americans killed in the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and in Lebanon.
A special $3.8 billion restitution fund
The new legislation states that $3.8 billion of funds from fines paid last year by BNP Paribas will be set aside for a special fund for terror victim restitution. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said: "These Americans were held captive by Iranians for 444 days over three decades ago. It's past time they were compensated for their captivity and suffering."
With regard to the Tehran victims, The New York Times reported that, "The law authorizes payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity for each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still alive. Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd hostage had been released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children are authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000."
Finding an appropriate source of funds for restitution to U.S. victims of state-sponsored terrorism has been difficult, but the $9 billion fine imposed by U.S. authorities in a settlement with BNP Paribas in late June 2014 has proven to be ideal. Especially so when it is considered that the record-level fine resulted from U.S. investigations that showed that over many years the French bank had violated U.S. trade sanctions on Sudan, Iran and Cuba.
All three countries have horrendous human rights records and, for example, Sudan's President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes. His government was a long-standing major client of BNP Paribas's office in Geneva, Switzerland. Cash would be deposited there and the bank then found ways to convert it into U.S. dollars and place these in U.S. investments in violation of U.S. law.
Indeed, in an albeit circuitous route, it is Cuban, Sudanese and Iranian cash that is now being used for compensation to U.S. victims of foreign terrorism.
When negotiations were underway in the early summer of 2014 between BNP Paribas and the U.S. Justice Department the President of France and the Governor of the French central bank both contacted top U.S. officials to plead on BNP Paribas's behalf and seek a reduction in the proposed fine. While suggestions were made that the bank would face hardship, the fact is that it maintained its dividend to shareholders after paying the fine.