Bank Stumbles on Appeal to Shield Cuban Assets

Tuesday, September 8, 2015
From Courthouse News Service:

Bank Stumbles on Appeal to Shield Cuban Assets

A Spanish bank fighting subpoenas from the son of a Cuban dissident murdered under mysterious circumstances lost a key legal battle today in the Second Circuit.

The dispute stems from the 1976 murder in Puerto Rico of Aldo Vera Sr., who had been chief of police in Havana.

Before he was shot twice in the back on Oct. 25, 1976, Vera had been attending a political meeting in San Juan.

The man's son, Aldo Vera Jr., claimed in a 2001 lawsuit that his father had left Cuba in the 1960s out of disillusionment with the Communist dictatorship, and had been participating "in counter-revolutionary activities" in Puerto Rico.

Citing the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act's terrorism exception, Vera Jr. claimed in a 2001 lawsuit that Cuban agents killed his father.

With Cuba not appearing in Florida court to defend itself regarding the alleged extrajudicial assassination, a judge awarded Vera Jr. nearly $96 million in default judgment.

Vera Jr. filed another suit in 2012, this time in Manhattan, to enter the judgment.

Cuba again failed to appear in court, and a federal judge in Manhattan granted Vera Jr. a $49 million judgment, ignoring the $50 million in punitive damages awarded.

Vera Jr. then issued subpoenas to various bank branches in New York, seeking Cuban assets that could be appropriated for the $49 million judgment.

Several banks, including Banco Bilbao, fought back, refusing to disclose Cuban assets they held in branches abroad. The Spanish bank, which had admitted Cuban assets in its New York City branch, then attempted to quash the subpoena, saying its other branches were not subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

After some legal wrangling, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected Banco Bilbao's jurisdictional opposition to the subpoena and ordered it to provide Vera Jr. with "full and complete answers with respect to the Republic of Cuba's assets."

 A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit dismissed the bank's appeals Tuesday, finding that the court lacks jurisdiction because the ruling against the bank's motion to quash is not "a final judgment."

"The Southern District order compelling [Banco Bilbao's] compliance with the challenged subpoena was in furtherance of collection proceedings against Cuba that were, and remain, pending in that court, not in some other tribunal," Judge Reena Raggi wrote for the court.

Whether Cuban assets that Banco Bilbao holds would theoretically need to be collected abroad is immaterial, since it remains unclear whether the bank has any such assets in its foreign branches, according to the ruling.

"Until the District Court actually reviews such compliance, it cannot determine what authority it may have ... to take actions to collect additional identified assets in satisfaction of the entered judgment," Raggi wrote.