NEW YORK – American victims of terrorist attacks in Israel have filed a lawsuit seeking more than $500 million from UBS AG, saying the Swiss bank made it possible for Iran to fund the terrorists.
The lawsuit says the Zurich-based bank provided dollars to Iran in violation of trade sanctions and Iran funneled the money to terrorist groups.
"UBS knew full well that the cash dollars it was providing to a state sponsor of terrorism such as Iran would be used to cause and facilitate terrorist attacks by Iranian-sponsored terrorist organizations," the plaintiffs say.
Their lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, said in a phone interview from Tel Aviv that the bank is liable "as much as Iran or the terrorists" for the damage caused.
UBS rejects the allegations, saying they were without merit.
"We will defend ourselves vigorously," said Serge Steiner, a UBS spokesman in Zurich.
In 2004, when UBS was fined $100 million for sending dollars to Iran, Cuba, Libya and Yugoslavia, the bank said "very serious mistakes were made" but did not directly admit to the accusations.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Manhattan, lists several suicide bombings and rocket attacks between 1997 and 2001 and attributes them to the militant Hamas and Hezbollah groups, which the Unites States considers terrorist organizations.
Darshan-Leitner said she used Israeli security reports and news accounts to find out who was responsible for the attacks.
The more than 50 plaintiffs include several Americans directly wounded — and in one case, killed — by the attacks, as well as their spouses and children.
They claim UBS, which has offices in New York and elsewhere in the U.S., violated an American law that prohibits "any United States person from knowingly engaging in financial transactions with the government of a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism."
The lawsuit asks for at least $500 million in compensation for the victims and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.
Plaintiff Rachel Rothstein, now a 25-year-old student in Los Angeles, said Monday she was a 15-year-old in Jerusalem on Sept. 4, 1997, when she and friends went to a pedestrian mall after school.
"We were shopping for a surprise party for a friend and we walked into a triple suicide bomb," she said. She suffered chest and shoulder injuries and two years later was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Asked about suing UBS, she said, "It feels right, in that if they were the ones providing the funding, they are responsible. I was very upset when I heard the bank had sent money to Iran."