It’s fair to say that COVID has replaced terrorism as a focus of national concern these days, but justice for victims of terrorism marches on. In 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) took a critical step toward holding foreign terrorists accountable when it established the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST). This fund compensates thousands of Americans who have been victims of international acts of terrorism – including the Iran hostages held from 1979 to 1981 and their families, victims of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, victims of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, victims of 9/11 and their families, and other international terrorist incidents.
As a former Army Captain, protecting my fellow Americans is near to my heart. This little-known settlement fund is something I’m proud to be part of in my corner of the civil justice space, so I want to shed some light on the way it works.
The USVSST fund is supported by proceeds, penalties, and fines from civil and criminal matters involving prohibited transactions with state sponsors of terrorism. For example, if a foreign bank is found guilty of laundering money that supports terrorist groups, the fees they must pay as penalty go into this pool. The fund is managed by the DOJ’s Criminal Division, which “… aggressively prosecutes terrorist financiers and others who abuse the U.S. financial system to commit crimes, and uses all available tools, including civil and criminal forfeiture, to seize their assets and illicit funds.”
The fund has given out millions of dollars so far; the compensation is allocated based on each claimant’s situation and is distributed in rounds. The third round of payouts from the USVSST is happening now. Claimants include more than 13,400 individuals and families impacted by September 11th, the embassy bombing in Tanzania, or the Iranian hostage situation. The total payout is $1,075,000,000.
This round of payouts comes from Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), a multinational banking and financial services institution headquartered in London, England. SCB agreed to forfeit $240 million and pay a $480 million fine for conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The criminal conspiracy centers around the banks’ processing of approximately 9,500 transactions totaling nearly $240 million through the U.S. financial system for the benefit of Iranian entities. SCB agreed to pay an additional financial penalty of $292 million, bringing the total to over $1 billion. Similar cases involving JPMorgan Chase Bank and UniCredit Bank AG were also added to the Fund in 2019.
When sufficient funds are available, the next round of payments can be authorized in 2022 or in subsequent years until the USVSST fund sunsets in 2030.
My team has had the distinct honor of overseeing distribution of these settlement funds to claimants around the world. It is our duty to lend a hand to those who face tragedy suddenly, and to do our part to bring justice to our fellow citizens.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).