French banks defeat NY lawsuit by family of Cuban bank seized by Castro
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Societe Generale SA and BNP Paribas SA on Thursday won the dismissal of a lawsuit in New York accusing them of trafficking in assets that Fidel Castro's government seized in 1960 from the former owners of a Cuban bank.
The case had sought damages estimated at several hundred million dollars.
It was brought by 12 heirs, mostly children and grandchildren, of Carlos and Pura Nuñez, who had owned Banco Nuñez before and during the Cuban Revolution.
SocGen and Paribas were accused of evading U.S. sanctions by doing business with Cuba's central bank after it nationalized and absorbed Banco Nuñez and other lenders, resulting in more than $1 billion of profit for the French banks since 2000.
But in Thursday's decision, U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil said that despite claims by a SocGen whistleblower, the heirs lacked proof that SocGen funds kept flowing through Banco Nacional de Cuba even after the French bank was warned about it.
The Manhattan judge also said she lacked jurisdiction over BNP Paribas, which according to the heirs "routinely" provided cash in Switzerland to the Cuban central bank and transacted with entities that did business with it.
Vyskocil also said many claims against BNP Paribas were too old.
Lawyers for the heirs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. SocGen and BNP Paribas declined to comment.
The heirs had sued under the Helms-Burton Act, a 1996 U.S. law that allows lawsuits against traffickers in property confiscated by Cuba's government.
Litigation was suspended for 23 years because of international opposition and concern U.S. courts could be flooded by lawsuits.
The Trump administration lifted the suspension in April 2019, to boost pressure on Havana to end Cuban support for Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
In November 2018, SocGen agreed to pay $1.34 billion and enter a deferred prosecution agreement to settle U.S. charges over its handling of transactions related to Cuba and other sanctioned countries.
SocGen complied with the agreement, and that case ended three years later.
The case is Sucesors de Don Carlos Nuñez y Doña Pura Galvez Inc et al v Societe Generale SA, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 20-00851.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)