MANHATTAN (CN) - A Spanish bank cannot upset a Florida court's finding that the Florida court had jurisdiction to award billions of dollars to the families of men allegedly tortured and assassinated by Cuba, a federal judge ruled in Manhattan.
Three families turned to the Southern District of New York, seeking money that a Florida court awarded them under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in separate cases.
The cases, all filed in the Miami-Dade County area, spawned controversy over jurisdictional issues, the massive judgments imposed against the Cuban government and the hurdles they presented to politicians hoping to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations
Jeannette Fuller Hausler sued on behalf of her brother Robert Otis Fuller, who, his family says, confessed to counterrevolutionary activity, under torture and isolation used to glean evidence for a sham trial in Cuba.
Fuller was executed by firing squad in October 1960, his family says.
A federal court confirmed a $454 million judgment for his successors in 2008.
In a second case, Aldo Vera Jr. claimed that his father, Aldo Vera Sr., was a high-ranking Cuban police officer before defecting to form a counterrevolutionary group in Puerto Rico. He was sentenced to death in absentia before his assassination in 1976, his son says.
The Florida Circuit Court awarded his son $95 million, which was reduced to $49 million in 2011.
The final case involved Alfredo Villoldo and Gustavo Villoldo, who alleged that their family member Gustavo Villoldo Argilagos committed suicide due to the "relentless torture and harassment" of the Cuban government.
His treatment was said to have been spurred by his family fortune and role in leading a mission in Bolivia to track down guerrilla leader Che Guevera, according to the lawsuit.
The family obtained a $2.79 billion final judgment.
The plaintiffs sought judgments against dozens of banks where the Cuba's money is believed to be held.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein on Friday rejected an attempt by Spain's Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria to dismiss the cases for lack of jurisdiction.
"The findings in each case ... established that the Florida Circuit Court in which each of the plaintiffs filed suit had jurisdiction over Cuba," Hellerstein wrote in a 17-page opinion.Banco Bilbao's lawyer declined to comment, and the plaintiffs' attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Washington-based lawyer Robert Muse, who wrote an amicus brief for the Cuban Electric Company in a related case, contested many of the judge's findings in a telephone interview Monday.
He said, for example, that the opinion did not point out that Fuller had planned to invade the Communist state with four Americans and 24 Cubans.
He questioned whether Villoldo's apparent suicide, in 1959, had anything to do with Guevara, who was killed eight years later.
Muse called the judge's finding that U.S. courts had jurisdiction "inexplicable," because the allegations in all the families' cases predated Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
"You had to demonstrate that Cuba had been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism at the time of the acts complained of," Muse said.
For Cuba, such a designation followed its sponsorship of revolutionary movements throughout Latin American in the 1980s, he added.
Muse said that many of the bank accounts sought for turnover are "probably empty," but that the cases raise a number of thorny questions regarding the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations at a time .
"Are these judgment creditors going to be seizing Cuban aircraft, Cuban ships?" he asked. "What are the foreign policy repercussions of these judgments? Is anyone thinking about this?"
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.