On Wednesday, August 5, 23 plaintiffs, victims and family members of victims of Iranian terrorism holding $1.5 billion of unsatisfied judgments against Iran sued the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, and John Kerry and Jack Lew, in their respective capacities as department secretaries in federal court in Manhattan. The suit maintains that the U.S. should not lift Iranian sanctions relief until the judgments are satisfied.
The suit argues that under the law, the U.S. can lift sanctions against Iran only if certain conditions are met, including “that the President provides Congress with a certification that Iran no longer funds terrorism” and that while the President is unable to certify to Congress that Iran no longer funds terrorism, the July 14, 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action provides for Iranian sanctions relief up to $150 billion.
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“As a result of the JCPOA, ” continues the argument, “the Plaintiffs will lose their last remaining opportunity to pressure Iran to satisfy their judgments.”
Bloomberg News (Terrorism Victims Ask Court to Block Release of Iran Assets, August 6, 2015) reported that “a State Department spokeswoman said there’s no connection between sanctions relief Iran would receive and any court judgments. The funds that would be released as part of the nuclear deal are primarily from Iran’s oil sales that have been deposited into restricted accounts, Pooja Jhunjhunwala said in a statement.”
“The U.S. does not hold or control any of this money, ” she said. “We continue to work with Congress, the Department of Justice and others to explore ways to compensate victims of Iran’s past activities, including its support for terrorism.”
According to the Wall Street Journal (U.S. Terrorism Victims File Lawsuit Targeting Part of Iranian Nuclear Deal, August 5, 2015), in the past two decades victims of Iranian terrorism have been awarded $45 billion by U.S. courts though Iran has paid none of it.
The plaintiffs are represented by Robert Tolchin of the Berkman Law Office and Nitsana Darshana-Leitner of Shurat Hadin. The case is Leibovitch v. U.S. Department of State, 1:15-cv-06133, S.D.N.Y.