Monday, September 15, 2014

PA finance minister paid thousands to Hamas while working at Arab Bank

From JPost, 14 Sept 2014, by FRANK G. RUNYEON, YONAH JEREMY BOB:

Bishara admits paying terrorist Osama Hamdan knowing he was on the US blacklist

Shukri Bishara, finance minister for the Palestinian Authority and former chief executive at the Arab Bank, admitted before a New York federal court on Thursday that he had cut a check for thousands of dollars to a senior Hamas leader while working for the bank.

Bishara had originally testified that the bank would not have anything to gain by funding terrorists. Many terrorist operations cost far less than the $8,000 check paid to the Hamas operative.

A total of 297 plaintiffs are suing the Arab Bank for billions of dollars. They allege that the bank is liable for wrongful death damages, because it helped move money that was used to finance attacks that killed their family members.

Plaintiffs said the bank facilitated massive payments to Hamas leaders and institutions, as well as to the families of imprisoned Hamas members and suicide bombers, via Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah’s al-Shahid Foundation, mostly between 1998 and 2004 (though evidence has focused on 2001-2004.) The Arab Bank, which functions practically as Jordan’s state bank and is one of the largest in the Middle East with branches in 30 countries, said the plaintiffs cannot prove the funds contributed to terrorist attacks and that the bank knew of a terrorist connection.

Because of the bank’s prominence, the Jordanian government has already tried to intervene, implying that a judgment against the bank could wreck anti-terrorism cooperation with the US and undermine the monarchy’s very stability.

While being questioned by his own lawyers as a supporting witness, Bishara presented in much the same manner as Arab Bank chairman Sabih Al-Masri: a charming, Western-educated finance executive with strong ties to the West whose own family was touched by terrorism.

“We were living in complete fear, panic,” Bishara said of his family’s time living in Jerusalem during the second intifada. After a suicide bomber attacked his children’s school, he moved them to Amman, Jordan.

Bishara asserted that banks have a vested interest in peace, not violence. The intifada “was a calamity for the economy” and the banking sector was “very close to having systemic meltdown,” he said.

Under cross examination by counsel for the plaintiffs Mark Werbner, Bishara’s tone changed from gregarious to acrimonious. A heated exchange took place when Werbner asserted that Bishara had released funds from a bank account belonging to senior Hamas leader Osama Hamdan.

“You gave this terrorist $8,000, the man who moves weapons and explosives,” Werbner stated. “You had no other choice than to give this terrorist $8,000?” “My concern was to get rid of the account,” Bishara explained, having admitted he knew Hamdan was on the US terrorist blacklist at the time. “There was simply no way” to close the account without a court order or Hamdan being designated a terrorist by Lebanon, he said.

Defense lawyers say the so-called “Beirut account” was first brought to the bank’s attention in 2004 by this lawsuit. After waiting five or six months to find another solution, Bishara said, the Arab Bank ultimately cut a check to Hamdan and closed the account.

This fund transfer has burdened the bank’s main defense, which was that most transfers were made to those who were not on any US watch list at the time.

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