WASHINGTON — A US federal court has asked the Belgian government to compel testimony in a major terror financing lawsuit from a key witness who has been traced to Belgium six years after his disappearance.
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York has requested that Belgium compel Said al-Shurafa and his wife Reem to testify by the end of the month in a suit revolving around a 2006 bombing in Tel Aviv.
Said al-Shurafa is a central figure in the lawsuit brought against Bank of China by US citizens Sheryl and Tuly Wultz after their 16-year-old son Daniel was killed in the suicide attack.
An affidavit sworn out by an Israeli official in 2009 alleges that Shurafa was an operative for Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and served as the linchpin in a trade-based money laundering scheme carried out through a Bank of China account. According to the suit, millions of dollars were routed through Bank of China accounts to finance attacks that killed Daniel and other civilians.
At the peak of the Second Intifada, 31-year-old Shurafa and his wife Reem lived in Guangdong, China, where they officially ran a clothing import-export business until they were expelled from there in 2008.
They then disappeared for years, but this year, lawyers for the Wultz family traced the couple to Liege, Belgium, where they were granted asylum and now live with their four children.
After discovering the Shurafas’ whereabouts, the Wultzes’ attorneys sought to conduct an expert examination of the Shurafas, but that proceeding was dismissed in September by a local Belgian court, which found, among other things, “that Plaintiffs has not demonstrated the exigency required in connection with such a proceeding.”
The family has been conducting a legal struggle against the funding sources that facilitated the attack in which their son, Daniel, suffered fatal injuries, and his father was seriously wounded. In 2012, the family won a suit against the governments of Syria and Iran for supporting the terrorists who carried out the suicide attack. Although the Washington District Court assessed damages at $323 million, the family never saw a penny.
Now, the family is going after the Bank of China, which allegedly served as the conduit through which money was transferred from funders to terrorist operatives in the West Bank and Gaza. According to an Israeli source, millions of dollars were allegedly transferred through Guangdong accounts, which had been opened in the names of members of the Shurafa family.
The Wultz family’s legal team contends that the Bank of China “was deliberately indifferent to whether the transfers to the Shurafas’ accounts were being made for illegal purposes” and argues that the Bank of China should have red-flagged the accounts due to a number of suspicious factors.
According to court documents, “most of the transfers were made in US dollars; the Shurafas withdrew, in cash, many of the transfers shortly after they were received; many of the transfers were in large, and often similar or round-number, dollar amounts, including a series of transfers in amounts of exactly $100,000 and $200,000; the intervals between transfers were often short periods of time; the transfers had no apparent business or lawful purpose; and the pattern of transfers continued for a period of years.”
The plaintiffs say that members of the Israeli Counter Terrorism Bureau met in China with their Chinese counterparts in 2005. At the time, the Israelis reportedly told the Chinese that the bank was being used for the transfer of terror funds, but transfers were allowed to continue until 2008 at least.
The Wultz family has sought the testimony of Israeli intelligence officer Uzi Shaya who allegedly attended the 2005 meeting, but his testimony has been blocked by the Israeli government.
Locating the Shurafas and compelling their testimony could serve to fill in crucial links about Bank of China’s alleged complicity in turning a blind eye to terror funding.
Commenting on Scheindlin’s request, Lee Wolosky, one of the lead attorneys for the Wultz family from the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and a former White House counterterrorism official, said that the legal team was “pleased that the US court has issued this request.”
“Belgium has long been a critical ally of the United States in fighting terrorism and its financing and we look forward to Belgium’s prompt assistance,” he added.