Arab Bank Officer Denies Hamas Dealings

     BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - Though Arab Bank "immediately" closed the account of a Hamas leader after discovering his ties to the terrorist organization, it later refunded his money, a high-ranking official with the bank said Monday.
     Chief Banking Operator Shukri Bishara testified in a prerecorded disposition that the bank cashed out the account of Osama Hamdan, the leader of Hamas in Lebanon, totaling a little more than $8,600 on March 30, 2005, even after the account was frozen and inactive for three years.
     In his taped testimony from 2007, Bishara, who acted as the bank's highest-ranking compliance officer, maintained that the bank does not deal with Hamas or any other terrorist organization, even though there were several "swift transfers" with the words "Hamas" or Hamas Organization" listed as the beneficiary on them.
     "We do not do business with Hamas or any other criminal entity," Bishara said. "If the name 'Hamas' [appeared on any documents] ... the wire transaction should immediately be returned. We do not maintain and do not deal with, and we do not do any clearing or processing for any such criminal activity."
     If an employee did release money to Hamdan, any employee of the Jordan-based bank Imman did so by relying only on an account number, the official testified.
     "But that does not mean that we conduct business with Hamas," Bishara said.
     Bishara's taped deposition, played in front of the federal jury Monday, came in the 10-year-old lawsuit filed on behalf of 300 people whose families were killed or injured in 24 suicide bombings during the Second Intifada (uprising) in the West Bank between 2000 and 2004.
     Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that Arab bank facilitated transactions totaling $35 million, which went to families of suicide bombers who carried out at least 24 attacks during the intifada. The group is accused of acting as "paymaster" for the Saudi Committee for the Support of Intifada Al Quds.
     Families of suicide bombers allegedly received $5,300, often in American cash from the organization, while families of prisoners got $2,655. Those who were injured got $1,300, according to the complaint.
     DLA Piper attorney Shand Stephens said during opening arguments last week that his client the bank "couldn't possibly have known" who it was paying.
     "Arab Bank did not choose who to pay," Stephens said.
     As the trial unfolds in Brooklyn, violence continues to erupt between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip.
     The case is said to be the first civil lawsuit accusing a financial institution of financing terrorism to take trial in the United States. It has survived several challenges.
     The families sued on allegations that the bank violated the U.S. Anti-terrorism Act, which enables victims of known terrorist groups to be compensated.
     Hamas was designated a terrorist group by the United States in 1997.