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U.S. seeks to compensate victims of Sudan, Iran and Cuba

Cuba News: Travel restrictions, college trips, & an outspoken Catholic priest

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Nora Gamez Torres shares headlines on Cuba weekly in a video report. Follow Nora on Twitter @ngameztorres and follow our content at http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/

The U.S. government announced a system Friday to compensate people harmed by Sudan, Iran and Cuba using some of the $8.9 billion forfeited by France’s largest bank for violating U.S. economic sanctions by processing transactions for clients in blacklisted countries.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein revealed the plan after U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield formally sentenced BNP Paribas consistent with the bank’s guilty plea last year. She said the bank must turn over the forfeiture and pay a $140 million fine. It also pleaded guilty to state charges.

The bank admitted conspiring to violate the International Emergency Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act. It said it processed billions of dollars in illegal transactions on behalf of clients in Sudan, Cuba and Iran as it violated U.S. trade sanctions imposed to block the participation of some countries in the global financial system.

Goldstein announced that anyone harmed during the 2004 to 2012 stretch in which the bank admitted wrongdoing could file a claim at http://usvbnpp.com and that others harmed outside those years could also try to make an argument for compensation. Petitioners are asked to send their information by July 30, 2015, but there is no guarantee they will be compensated.

There has been a spate of civil suits filed, mainly in Miami, by Floridians who claimed their families suffered as a result of Cuba’s actions. Because Cuba hasn’t defended itself in court against the lawsuits, the plaintiffs have won by default, often securing judgments worth millions of dollars. One that was brought by the family of a man who committed suicide, allegedly to prevent the murder of his family by Cuban authorities in the early days of the revolution, resulted in a $3.2 billion judgment.

Those with judgments are scrambling to collect before the Obama administration removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism at the end of May, said Antonio C. Martinez II, a New York lawyer with Gerstman Schwartz & Malito.

“When that happens, my understanding is that Cuban sovereign immunity will be restored,” said Martinez. “Judgments against Cuba will become very difficult to collect.”

In anticipation of Goldstein’s announcement, about 15 victims of the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa came to court. They cited court rulings concluding al-Qaida relied on support from Sudan to carry out terror attacks, including the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

They left unhappy after Goldstein and another government lawyer announced the 2004-to-2012 time frame.

“Total disappointment,” said Marina Kirima, a Seattle resident who worked at the embassy in Kenya when it was bombed. “It’s like starting all over again.” She added: “I was thinking that they would start the process to give the victims something, however small.”

Her younger brother, injured in the blast, never walked again and died from lingering injuries 14 years later, she said outside court. In all, 224 people died in the blasts, a dozen Americans among them.

Attorney Bill Wheeler, among a team of lawyers who won an $8.7 billion award in 2013 for about 600 clients, including the embassy bombing victims, said government attorneys had indicated money would be forthcoming.

“Then they said, ‘We'll come up with this silly website thing,’ ” he said with disgust. “This website sounds like something a bunch of high schoolers would come up with.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Mimi Whitefield contributed to this report.

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