WASHINGTON – A fight erupts between lawyers over various groups of victims of the 9/11 attacks over who might try to grab $ 7 billion from Afghanistan’s central bank deposited with the New York Federal Reserve – money the Taliban are now demanding for them …
The dispute stems from various lawsuits against al-Qaeda and others who they say have supported terrorists such as the Taliban. When the defendants failed to appear in court, the plaintiffs won a default conviction many years ago.
Since it was not possible to recover money from such defendants, the decisions that they were responsible for the losses incurred by the plaintiffs seemed merely symbolic. But the collapse of the Afghan government and the military takeover of that country by the Taliban has increased the likelihood that they could confiscate Afghan government funds in New York.
This week, after The New York Times reported such efforts by a group of about 150 relatives of 9/11 victims in a case known as Havlish, lawyers for other 9/11 victim groups said they want a cut of the funds. , too. As can be seen from the letters filed with the court, nervousness is growing between the teams of lawyers.
The interjections further complicate a thorny issue that has caused a series of legal and diplomatic problems related to Afghan money in New York, which has been amassed through foreign aid earmarked for the country’s former government and other sources.
After this government collapsed amid a Taliban takeover, the Federal Reserve blocked access to the account. It was unclear who had more legal authority to gain access to these funds, and long-standing anti-terrorism sanctions make it illegal to transfer money to the Taliban, who declared themselves the new government and demanded access to these funds.
In September, Havlisha’s plaintiffs persuaded a judge to approve the dispatch of a US Marshal to serve the New York Federal Reserve’s Legal Department with a “writ of execution” to seize money to cover a judgment of about $ 7 billion in damages they received. ten years ago. Seven State Department contractors, who have individually sued the Taliban over the 2016 bombing, have also tried to enforce the $ 138 million default judgment.
The Biden administration stepped in and said it wanted to inform the court that it would serve the country’s interests. The government was to announce its position to the court on Friday. But this week, the Justice Department requested an additional grace period until January 28, saying the administration needed more time.
Federal Justice of the Peace Sarah Netburn agreed on Thursday, writing that “the court recognizes that the handling of Afghan funds currently held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York raises many complex legal and policy issues.”
Lawyers for Hawlish’s case were in talks with the Biden administration about a potential deal in which they would divert some of the funds to humanitarian aid in Afghanistan if the government backed their demand. They also offered to hand over some other spouses and children of 9/11 victims who, for technical reasons, did not receive payments from the Compensation Fund for Terrorism Victims set up by Congress.
But according to their proposal, plaintiffs in other 9/11 lawsuits – some of which involve more victims – will not receive payments from an Afghan account.
The Havelisha plaintiffs appear to be the only major group of 9/11 plaintiffs who already have a decision that the Taliban owe them money. Several people familiar with the cases said it was because all of the defendants named in Havlish’s suit had failed to honor their commitments. In other cases, several defendants were named who appeared in court, which postponed the stage of compensation for damages even for those who were found guilty by default.
The government’s request for a postponement has shown an increase in tensions.
Timothy B. Fleming, a lawyer in the Havlisch case, told the court that the delay sought by the government would be too long and that it should last until December 28 at the most.
But on Wednesday, Andrew J. Maloney, the plaintiffs’ attorney in another 9/11 victim case known as Ashton, wrote to the court and expressed support for the government’s request for an adjournment until January 28. He said the delay would give his clients time to receive compensation for damages against the Taliban and to formally name additional plaintiffs in the case.
“We think that everyone accused of 9/11 should be treated equally, and almost all, if not all, are sentencing the Taliban by default,” he said in an interview. “We want this money to be split proportionately among all 9/11 deaths, not just a small group.”
Mr. Fleming responded to the court earlier Thursday, portraying Ashton’s plaintiffs’ view of the requested stay as irrelevant, as “by their own admission” they currently have no enforceable damages against the Taliban.
“The court should ignore the suggestions and assumptions of non-parties on how to conduct this litigation,” he wrote. “Should Ashton’s plaintiffs ever receive final and enforceable judgments against the Taliban, Havelish’s plaintiffs will be prepared to consider the priority of these claims at that time.”
New York law suggests that even if other plaintiffs receive damages and also file claims, the Havlish plaintiffs may argue that because they filed their claim first, they have the right to settle first. Their legal debt is approximately equal to all the assets in the account.
Lawyers for another major 9/11 trial related to the 2006 Taliban accountability ruling, known as the Burnett case, also plan to receive a share of Afghanistan’s central bank revenue if the funds are allocated for this purpose. , according to someone familiar with the case.
Also Thursday, Jerry S. Goldman, attorney for another 9/11 lawsuit known as O’Neill, wrote to the court to urge the trial to be postponed until the end of January. He said the extra time would keep funds “completely safe” while the Biden administration and the court deal with competing claims.
The O’Neill case, opened in 2004, does not name the Taliban or Afghanistan as the accused. But Goldman said in an interview that his clients deserve their fair share, too.
“I think everyone should be treated equally,” he said, adding, “Funds should go to all victims, not a select few.”