Heirs of Murdered Ukrainian Fight SunTrust Bank at DC Circuit

WASHINGTON (CN) – Fending off claims over the estate of a slain Ukrainian politician, a lawyer for SunTrust stuck to his story at D.C. Circuit oral arguments Wednesday that the bank is not to blame for a missing inheritance.

SunTrust Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia

With more than $100 million to his name, Yevgenyi Scherban was at one point one of the richest people in Ukraine. But in November 1996, he and his wife, Nadejda, were assassinated by men posing as police officers on the tarmac of the Donetsk Airport. 

Yevgen Scherban, one of three boys the couple left behind, had been 13 and attending a U.S. prep school at the time of his parents’ death. 

In 2001, when he became the personal representative of Nadejda’s estate, the boys learned that their parents had opened a SunTrust bank account in Florida in March 1995 containing more than $1 million.

Somehow over those five years, however, the account had sunk to a balance of just $3,000. That money was gone in 2003 and the account was closed. Trying to find out what happened, the family spent years working with investigators and their father’s former assistant, but to no avail.

Before his assassination on Nov. 3, 1996, Yevgenyi Scherban was elected to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada from the Volnovakha electoral district in Donetsk Oblast. Scherban was a businessman and member of his country’s Liberal Party.

In 2015, Yevgen and his brothers filed a lawsuit that took issue specifically with a $282,000 transfer timed shortly after their parents’ death. 

They seek relief from the D.C. Circuit now after a federal judge dismissed their two remaining counts: one requesting an accounting and the other alleging fraudulent concealment.

George Lambert, who represents the Scherbans, said at oral arguments this morning that the lower court allowed SunTrust to “embezzle” money. He also accused the bank of violating Florida reporting requirements for abandoned bank accounts.

Nothing in federal banking laws allows banks to disappear money just because it has been sitting in an account for years, the lawyer argued.

“It doesn’t exist,” Lambert said.

But Bradford Bernstein, an attorney with the law firm Miles & Stockbridge, said SunTrust’s handling of the account was above board. Bernstein suggested in briefs to the court that it was Scherban’s assistant, not the bank, who stole the money.

Bernstein told the appellate panel Wednesday that SunTrust does not close accounts with money in them, and that it has no insight as to the fate of the money because bank policy is to purge records after seven years.

“We don’t believe this account was closed with funds in it,” Bernstein said Wednesday.

The lawyers faced few questions this morning from U.S. Circuit Judges Gregory Katsas, Patricia Millett and Judith Rogers, who reserved decision on the case.

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