Bank Averts Subpoena Tied to Cuban Political Assassination

MANHATTAN (CN) – The Second Circuit dealt a legal blow Monday to the son of a Cuban counter-revolutionary who was assassinated in the 1970s.

Aldo Vera Jr. has been fighting Cuba in U.S. courts for at least a decade in connection to the murder of his father, Aldo Vera Sr.

A former Havana police chief, Vera Sr. had fled the island in the 1960s and was leaving a regularly scheduled meeting of a prominent anti-communist group in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 25, 1976, when he was gunned down in the street.

Vera Jr., the activist’s son, claims that his father was targeted for his counterrevolutionary activities. When Cuba declined to appear in the action Vera Jr. filed against it in Florida, a state court judge slapped the country with  a $95 million default judgment.

Cuba likewise failed to appear in a New York federal action where Vera Jr. secured a $45 default judgment.

Trying to collect Cuban assets wherever they are held, Vera began serving information subpoenas on the New York branches of various foreign banks, seeking information regarding Cuba’s assets both inside and outside the United States.

One of the banks targeted by Vera Jr., Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, supplied information pertaining to Cuban assets located at its New York branch but refused to produce information regarding Cuban assets found outside the state.

Banco Bilbao balked when U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein granted Vera Jr.’s petition for a turnover of assets, however, and appealed to the Second Circuit when the court held it in contempt.

Siding with the bank Monday in a sweeping reversal, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit found that Banco Bilbao should have quashed Vera Jr.’s subpoena for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Not only was Cuba not designated a state sponsor of terrorism at the time Vera Sr. was killed, the court found that Vera failed to establish that Cuba was later designated a state sponsor of terrorism as a result of his father’s death.

“Accordingly, the FSIA’s terrorism exception to sovereign immunity — the only potential basis for subject matter jurisdiction in this case — does not apply,” U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Wesley wrote for the federal appeals court, using the abbreviation for the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. “Cuba was immune from Vera’s action, the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enter judgment against it, and the information subpoena to enforce that judgment is void.”

Robert Swift, an attorney for Vera with the Philadelphia firm Kohn, Swift & Graf, blasted the ruling.

“Today’s Second Circuit opinion is a disappointment not just to the Vera family but to Congress’ strategy to fight terrorism by providing legal remedies to the victims,” Smith said in an email.

“When an outspoken critic of communist Cuba can be gunned down with impunity on American soil by that foreign nation, a legal remedy is both just and essential,” Smith added. “Today’s opinion rewards a terrorist regime and deprives a victim’s family of compensation.”

Kenneth Caruso, an attorney for Banco Bilbao with the firm White & Case, meanwhile applauded the reversal.

“We are pleased with the decision,” Caruso said.

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