WASHINGTON — At least six major groups of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks have signed a tentative deal to distribute about $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets that they are trying to seize to pay off legal claims against the Taliban, according to a report. letter filed on Tuesday to a judge overseeing the case.
But another large group isn’t part of the deal, which would mean some families would get a much bigger payout than most others. And the Sept. 11 plaintiffs have yet to convince a court that the central bank’s money — deposited into the New York Federal Reserve before the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August — can legally be used to pay off the Taliban’s legal debts. to pay.
Still, the unveiling of the framework agreement raised the prospect of avoiding a potentially ugly battle between various groups of 9/11 victims over who can get the money. That could remove an obstacle to a legally and politically dramatic attempt by widows, orphans and other relatives of attack victims – along with insurance companies – to seize Afghan funds.
The complex saga traces back to lawsuits filed years ago by victims of the September 11 attacks who sought billions of dollars from a range of defendants they held responsible for their losses, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban. When such defendants failed to appear in court, judges held them liable in absentia.
But with no way to collect damages, the statements seemed like symbolic gestures — until last fall, after the government of Afghanistan collapsed during the Taliban takeover. As part of the fallout, the New York Federal Reserve blocked access to an account for the Afghan central bank — known as Da Afghanistan Bank or DAB — on which it had deposits of about $7 billion.
The ongoing aftermath of the 9/11 attacks
In September, lawyers for a group of about 150 September 11 victims, known as the Havlish case, persuaded a judge to send a U.S. marshal to serve the New York Federal Reserve’s legal department with an “execution order.” ” to begin. seizing Afghan banking funds to pay his verdict against the Taliban, including more than $2 billion in compensatory damages.
(A smaller group of State Department victims of a Taliban-related attack known as the Doe case also began the process in September to seize some of the funds to help judgment of $137 million to be paid off.)
Meanwhile, the Biden administration intervened, saying it wanted to weigh up what would serve the national interest. In February, President Biden issued an executive order calling for emergency powers to seize half of the central bank’s assets for what the government described as a fund to help the Afghan people. But the White House left the other half of the money for the Sept. 11 families to continue the prosecution in court.
Meanwhile, controversies had arisen around that effort. One dispute concerned whether it was appropriate for one of the Afghan funds to be used to pay 9/11 families as an immense humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Afghanistan. The other dispute revolved around how to allocate such funds to terrorism victims, if a court rules they can legitimately be used to pay off the Taliban’s debts in absentia.
Other groups of 9/11 prosecutors wept at the prospect that the Havlish group — about 150 people, linked to 47 estates of the nearly 3,000 people killed — tried to take most of the remaining central bank funds for themselves, arguing that the funds should be distributed equally.
Legally, though, the Havlish group seemed better positioned to be paid off first because it had a more developed case — it was the only group holding a verdict — and it was first in line to try to settle the case. to confiscate. funds. That raised the prospect that the other families would get nothing if the courts ruled that Afghan bank funds could be used for Taliban debt.
The letter about the framework agreement was submitted by Sean P. Carter, a lawyer who represents a group of insurance companies. It said the affected groups of plaintiffs wanted the court to make a final ruling in favor of the insurers, which could account for the rest of Afghan banking assets Biden had left behind.
The Havlish group’s and insurance company’s claimants would then transfer some of those funds to the other groups of 11 claimants — who currently have no enforceable damages judgments against the Taliban — to split among themselves, it said.
The letter to the court did not detail the terms of the potential agreement. But according to Brian Eagleson — a member of the plaintiffs’ group known as the Ashton case — the proposed deal means Havlish’s plaintiffs keep about $1.75 billion and insurance interests about $500 million.
The remaining roughly $1.25 billion would go to the other victim groups, which represent the remaining estates involved in various lawsuits, he said. If the court approves the use of central bank funds for Taliban debt, it could lead to potential eight-figure-per-estate payouts for the Havlish prosecutors, compared to potential six-figure-per-estate payouts for the other groups, depending on how they operate. decide to divide it.
Mr Eagleson, whose father was murdered in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, called it a “terrible and unfair deal.”
Mr Carter declined to comment. But in his letter to the court, he wrote that the proposed deal was “the best approach available under the circumstances” to ensure that all 9/11 plaintiffs receive some relief, thereby “risking many of them otherwise that they have no base”, is eliminated. to participate in distributions of blocked DAB funds that are subject to turnover.”
Jerry S. Goldman, an attorney for a group of plaintiffs who cited the O’Neill case and whose letter Mr. Carter said supported the deal, declined to comment on the content of an agreement or the status of the deal. negotiations. But he said he was trying to get the best possible outcome for his clients “under the existing circumstances and legal environment.”
Complicating matters further, however, is that a group of victims of another terrorist attack in Qaeda — the 1998 African embassy bombings — persuaded a New York judge to issue a so-called seizure order on Afghan assets. enact a separate lawsuit they bring, another claim on the funds that could distort the view of the 9/11 plaintiffs to use judgment for the insurance companies to take the rest.