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U.S. appeals court revives claims in $1.7 billion Iran terrorism lawsuit

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court in New York on Tuesday revived part of a $1.68 billion lawsuit against Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi, by families of soldiers killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon.

A general view of the Central Bank of Iran building in Tehran, Iran, January 23, 2006. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo

By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court judge erred in dismissing claims against Markazi; Banca UBAE SpA, an Italian bank accused of engaging in transactions for Iran; and Clearstream Banking SA, a Luxembourg bank accused of opening accounts for Markazi and UBAE. It upheld the dismissal of claims against JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The plaintiffs sought to recoup bond proceeds allegedly owned by Markazi and held by Clearstream, to partially satisfy $3.8 billion of judgments they had won against Iran after a federal court deemed them victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

They accused the banks of fraudulently processing billions of dollars of bond proceeds owed to Markazi, and targeted cash held in a Clearstream account at JPMorgan in New York.

Iran is one of several countries and organizations ordered by U.S. courts to pay damages to terrorism victims. Such orders are often difficult to enforce.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs and banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest had dismissed the case in February 2015. She said she lacked jurisdiction over Markazi assets located abroad, the plaintiffs had released claims against Clearstream and UBAE, and nothing was left in the Clearstream account for JPMorgan to “turn over.”

In Tuesday’s 72-page decision, Circuit Judge Robert Sack said Forrest reasonably assumed she lacked jurisdiction because the main assets in dispute had been recorded on Clearstream’s books in Luxembourg.

But he said recent court rulings interpreting the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act permitted courts in New York to exercise jurisdiction “to recall to New York extraterritorial assets owned by a foreign sovereign.”

Sack ordered Forrest to decide whether she has personal jurisdiction over Clearstream, and whether state or federal law prevents the plaintiffs from recovering bond proceeds.

In April 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a separate case that Markazi must pay nearly $2 billion, which had been frozen, to terrorism victims, and Congress had not exceeded its authority by passing a law making it easier to recover damages.

The 1983 attack, in Beirut, killed 241 U.S. service members.

The case is Peterson et al v Islamic Republic of Iran et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-0690.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio