MH17 flight victims can move forward with terror lawsuit against Russian banks

Source : 112 Ukraine

The Antiterrorism Act establishes a cause of action for U.S. citizens against banks that provide material support to terror groups
11:10, 6 October 2021

Toys are placed at a memorial to victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane crash near the village of Hrabove in Donetsk region, Ukraine March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter refused to dismiss a lawsuit in which the family of an American teenager claims two Russian banks enabled a Russian supremacist group to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine in 2014. This was reported by Reuters.

The Antiterrorism Act establishes a cause of action for U.S. citizens against banks that provide material support to terror groups. But ATA plaintiffs still have to show that U.S. courts have jurisdiction to hear their claims.

That was a key issue in the lawsuit by the parents and sister of Quinn Schansman, who was 18 years old and traveling to a family vacation when he died aboard the Malaysian jet. In an amended complaint filed last October, Schansman's family alleged that two Russian banks – Sberbank of Russia PJSC and VTB Bank PJSC – funneled millions of dollars to the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Russian separatist group allegedly responsible for shooting down the Malaysain Air jet.

Related: MH17 trial: Court to hand down verdict at the end of 2022

The amended complaint asserted that New York had jurisdiction over the family’s case because Sberbank and VTB routinely and deliberately routed transfers to the separatist group through their New York-based correspondent accounts at U.S. banks.

The family’s lawyers at Jenner & Block were able to document two of those transactions in the amended complaint by obtaining early discovery from a court-ordered subpoena served on two of those U.S. banks, Bank of America and Bank of New York Mellon. The partial records from just those two banks, Jenner alleged, showed that Sberbank used U.S. banks to transfer donations to the Russian supremacist group.

The Schansmans’ amended complaint claimed that the two documented money transfers were just the tip of an iceberg of transactions in which millions of dollars flowed to the alleged Russian terror group through U.S. accounts belonging to Sberbank and VTB. Fundraisers for the group, Jenner & Block alleged, confirmed the money flow through detailed financial ledgers that they posted online. That public evidence, the complaint said, was ample justification for New York’s jurisdiction over the Russian banks.

Those two documented transactions through Sberbank’s account at Bank of America, they said, totaled a measly $300. Two transfers adding up to $300, the Russian banks argued, were hardly convincing evidence that the banks deliberately and repeatedly used the U.S. banking system, as required to establish New York's jurisdiction.

“Plaintiffs’ identification of only two mechanical transfers totaling $300 through Sberbank correspondent accounts,” Debevoise wrote in Sberbank’s dismissal motion, “is too inconsequential to support personal jurisdiction over Sberbank in New York.”

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down in the skies over Donbas on July 17, 2014. There were 298 people on board - 283 passengers and 15 crew members. They all died. This disaster, in terms of the number of deaths, became the largest in the history of civilian aviation since September 11, 2001. At that time, the area where the plane crashed was controlled by pro-Russian militants.

Related: Court hearing of MH17 case begins in Netherlands

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