LOS ANGELES – Iran must pay $466 million to the family of a Los Angeles man who was tortured and executed there a decade ago for spying, a federal court ruled.
U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ruled Dec. 28 that the family of Siavash Bayani is entitled to the money. The judge in Washington, D.C. found the suit met a "terrorist exception" to the law because the U.S. has designated the Islamic Republic of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The family won by default because Iran ignored the legal action and presented no defense.
The family had to provide proof leading to a damage award, and now must try to collect from a nation that does not recognize the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
An after-hours call to the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Washington, D.C. was not answered.
Zohreh Mizrahi, a Century City attorney who represented the family, said Thursday that she is confident the plaintiffs will be able to collect by seeking Iranian assets frozen in the United States, which has an economic embargo with Iran.
"A U.S. judgment carries the legal weight that we need ... to bring a motion for attachment on any financial activity," she said.
Iran also has many financial and business interests in Europe and courts there will be asked to hand over some assets to satisfy the judgment, Mizrahi said.
Others who have won U.S. lawsuit judgments have found it hard to collect.
Bayani was an officer in the Iranian Air Force since before the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran. He and his family sought U.S. asylum in 1984 after the Revolutionary Guard Corps began purging military officers who had served under the Shah.
Bayani became a naturalized citizen but in 1995 he returned to Iran to care for his mother, who was terminally ill with leukemia. He was arrested after being in the country about five months.
According to the suit, Bayani was tortured in prison. His mother-in-law testified that when she saw Bayani he had been beaten so badly that he could not walk upright and whippings had deformed his head and neck so much that "he had become a new being."
Bayani's mother found when she visited the prison that he had lost half of his body weight and he was covered in bruises, according to a finding of fact in the court ruling.
Iranian officials eventually contacted the family and offered to help get Bayani released in exchange for money. Family members paid $95,000, but Bayani was tried by a revolutionary court and hanged in 1997. The official Iranian government newspaper reported he was executed as a spy for the "Great Satan," meaning the United States.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Bayani's widow, two children and his estate, named the Iranian republic, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Revolutionary Guards Corps and several government and religious leaders, including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The suit claimed that Bayani's arrest, detention and execution were ordered by a revolutionary structure that acted in parallel to the formal government.
In his ruling, the judge found the suit had not provided any evidence that Rafsanjani, Khamenei or others were liable.
But he said the Iranian republic, intelligence ministry and Revolutionary Guards Corps owed the family and estate $66,331,500 for assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotion distress.
The judge also awarded $400 million in punitive damages.