Supreme Court Urged To Free Iranian Cash Held By JPMorgan

By Kevin Penton

The U.S. Supreme Court has been urged to review a case brought against JPMorgan Chase by a former CNN journalist held hostage in Lebanon during the 1980s so it can correct the Second Circuit’s alleged error in affirming a decision not to order the release of $3.18 million in funds tied to Iran.

The high court should clarify that the Second Circuit erred by affirming the Southern District of New York’s determination that money in a frozen account held by JPMorgan Chase Bank NA should not be transferred to Jeremy Levin to partly satisfy a $28.8 million judgment against Iran that the former CNN Beirut bureau chief secured in 2008, according to the Tuesday petition for certiorari.

While the money in the account was flagged because of its ties to Bank Saderat Iran — a bank based in Tehran, Iran — JP Morgan argued that it cannot release the funds to Levin and his wife, Lucille Levin, because the entity that actually transferred the money was Lloyds Bank PLC, a correspondent bank for Saderat, according to the Second Circuit’s October opinion.

The Supreme Court should close the loophole created by the Second Circuit in its decision, which the Levins assert allows terrorists to effectively funnel and launder money through U.S. banks as long as the entity that deals with a U.S. bank is not considered a terrorist.

“This court should grant certiorari to clarify the rules of ownership of property where the means of transmittal of blocked funds of a sanctioned party and originator of funds is by [electronic funds transfer], under [the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act], the [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act], and federal common law,” the petition reads.

Jeremy Levin was kidnapped in 1984 by individuals with alleged ties to Iran, according to court documents. He escaped from captivity approximately one year later, according to the documents.

“New York banks want to hold onto funds no matter where they come from or where they are going,” said Suzelle Smith, an attorney representing the Levins, in a statement. “This is the reason JPMorgan is fighting to deny the Levins’ access to the blocked assets, so the monies stay in the bank. It doesn’t matter to the banks that this is money laundering by terrorists.”

Counsel for JPMorgan could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

The Levins are represented by Suzelle M. Smith and Don Howarth of Howarth & Smith.

JPMorgan was represented in the Second Circuit by Steven B. Feigenbaum of Katsky Korins LLP.

The case is Levin et al. v. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, case number unavailable, before the U.S. Supreme Court.