September 8, 2014 / 8:36 PM / 5 years ago

Arab Bank chairman testifies in U.S. court, denies funding Hamas

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Arab Bank Plc’s chairman told reporters on Monday his bank was “clean” and had not provided funding to Hamas, speaking after his first day as a defense witness in the long-awaited civil terrorism-financing trial.

A lawsuit, first filed 10 years ago, accuses the Jordan-based bank of knowingly maintaining accounts for operatives of the militant Islamist group and financing millions in payments for the families of suicide bombers and those imprisoned or injured during the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.

Arab Bank has denied the allegations, saying it provided routine banking services in compliance with counter-terrorism laws and regulations, and had no intention of providing support to Hamas, which the United States designated as a terrorist organization in 1997.

“They’re not true,” Arab Bank Chairman Sabih al-Masri said of the plaintiffs’ allegations outside a federal courtroom in Brooklyn. “The bank never did anything wrong, intentionally or knowingly.”

The bank is “clean,” al-Masri, 78, added.

During his testimony earlier on Monday, al-Masri told the court how the bank’s business had suffered during the uprising, known as the second Palestinian Intifada, with many employees unable to get to work at banks in the Palestinian territories because of violence and roadblocks.

“There was killing everywhere,” said al-Masri, who was a member of the bank’s board at the time. “People were suffering ... Business suffered.”

Al-Masri criticized attacks that Hamas allegedly carried out on Israel and in the Palestinian territories as well as the Israeli response, saying that Palestinians and Israelis needed to learn to live in peace.

Almost 300 U.S. citizens who were the victims, or the family members of victims, of militant attacks that Hamas allegedly committed between 2001 and 2004 have sued the bank, saying it violated the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation. The bank could be liable for millions of dollars, Gary Osen, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has said.

It is believed to be the first terrorism-financing case to go to trial in the United States.

Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Paul Simao

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