Judge Denies Daughter’s Cuba Damages Claim Under TRIA for Father’s Death

By | May 1, 2015

A federal judge who will sentence BNP Paribas SA Friday for violating U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Iran and Cuba on Thursday rejected a Cuban-American woman’s bid for compensation for her father’s death at the hands of the Castro regime.

Marilyn Wiederspan, a Nebraska teacher, sought to have a $63.6 million judgment paid out of almost $9 billion BNP Paribas will forfeit to the U.S. She obtained the judgment from a Florida circuit court against the Cuba and Fidel Castro for the 1959 torture and execution of her father, Jose Velasquez Fernandez, a lieutenant in the Cuban army.

BNP, France’s largest bank, admitted in July that it engaged in a long-running conspiracy to violate U.S. embargoes against the three nations by processing billions of dollars in banned transactions from 2004 to 2012.

Wiederspan argued she was entitled to a portion of the funds the bank agreed to forfeit as part of the plea that were tied to Cuba. The judgment was composed of almost $6.4 billion in penalties for illicit transactions with Sudan, $686,600 for those with Iran and $1.7 billion with Cuba.

U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in Manhattan rejected Wiederspan’s bid to intervene in the case, saying the Florida judgment is against Cuba and not BNP. Wiederspan failed to show that Cuba has any “ownership” of the funds that BNP is forfeiting, the judge said.

“Petitioner has a judgment against the Republic of Cuba,” Schofield ruled. “Petitioner has no judgment against BNP.”

Wrong Proceeding

Wiederspan “has every right to enforce her valid judgment against the Republic of Cuba in a proceeding,” the judge said. “This is not such a proceeding.”

President Barack Obama in December made a surprise announcement that the U.S. will seek to establish diplomatic ties with Cuba and ease economic barriers. The U.S. recognizes more than 5,900 claims against Cuba stemming from the expropriation of property owned by Americans in the aftermath of the revolution, according to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, an arm of the Justice Department.

In the bank case, the U.S. has asked Schofield to sentence BNP in accordance with the plea agreement reached in July. The sentence which the bank faces on Friday includes a final order forfeiting $8.8 billion and a fine of $140 million as well as five years’ probation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein said in a memo to the court.

Woman’s Lawyer

Wiederspan’s lawyer, William Sanchez, argued his client was entitled to the funds under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002. He didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment about the decision.

Jim Margolin, a spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office brought the case, declined to comment on Schofield’s ruling.

The case is U.S. v. BNP Paribas 14-cr-00460, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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