is the latest wrinkle on a tangled legal and financial landscape that began when the U.S. government froze billions of dollars
of Iranian assets in response to Iran's taking of U.S. ... Reuters
By Adam Tanner
SAN FRANCISCO - The family of an Iranian-American dissident assassinated on Tehran's orders is entitled to millions of dollars in assets owed to Iran by a California defense contractor, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday.
The ruling is the latest wrinkle on a tangled legal and financial landscape that began when the U.S. government froze billions of dollars of Iranian assets in response to Iran's taking of U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979.
A U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., in 2000 ordered Iran to pay $11.7 million in compensation and $300 million in punitive damages for its role in killing Cyrus Elahi in Paris a decade earlier.
On Thursday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that Elahi's family could collect some of the money from Cubic Defense Systems, a San Diego defense company. The decision follows rulings that Cubic owes Iran $2.8 million because of a breach of contract during the late 1970s.
"Rather than the defense contractor Cubic paying a terrorist nation, it pays the victim of terrorism, who is my client," said Jonathan Mook, the Elahi family attorney.
The three-judge 9th Circuit ruling also found that an American victim of a 1995 suicide bombing in Israel that the court said was linked to Iran could not claim any of the Cubic funds because she had already received compensation from the U.S. government.
Alisa Flatow was killed as she was heading to the beach in Gaza while spending her junior year of college in Israel. In 1998, her father won a judgment of $20 million in compensatory damages against Iran and $250 million in punitive damages.
The Flatow family eventually collected more than $25 million with interest under a $400 million U.S. program to pay those who had won judgments against Iran and Cuba.
By contrast, the Elahi family later received a little over $1 million from the U.S. program, whose funds were dwindling by the time they applied, Mook said. As the amount was less than the $11.7 million award against Iran, the court said the family was entitled to the disputed Cubic funds.
"Obviously we're not very happy about the Elahi part of it," said Anthony Van Patten, who represents Iran in the case. But "these are pretty technical matters and they are best handled through the courts rather than the (news)papers."
The corporate counsel for Cubic said he had not read the ruling and could not comment.
The lawyer for the Flatow family said he would continue to fight to get Iran to pay the $250 million in punitive damages.
"At some point Iran comes off the (U.S.) terrorist list," said Steven Perles. "When it comes off the terrorist list, those assets are no longer regulated and Iran will have this outstanding judgment against it."