The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, Feb. 15 that three lawyers have filed a suit on behalf of Sept. 11 victims that names dealers of tanzanite and targets alleged ties between the tanzanite trade and Osama bin Laden.
The wrongful death action reportedly filed in federal court in New York City seeks an injunction banning STS Jewels Inc., a large New York City tanzanite dealer, from selling the gem and forcing the company to contribute all past tanzanite-sale proceeds to a court-supervised Sept. 11 victims relief fund.
The suit also reportedly seeks $1 billion in damages from the other defendants, including the Tanzanite Mineral Dealers Association (TAMIDA). The lawsuit alleges that the defendants knew their tanzanite sales helped support bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network. Because bin Laden masterminded the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the suit also contends the tanzanite dealers are also liable for the attacks.
This is despite the fact that U.S. State Department officer of East African Affairs, Mike O’Keefe stated that while there is no doubt that there was an Al Qaeda operative selling tanzanite to finance the embassy bombing in 1998, there is absolutely no new connection between the tanzanite trade and smuggling in support of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
“We have seen no evidence that Al Qaeda or any other terrorist group is currently using tanzanite sales to finance its efforts to launder money, ” O’Keefe said to an audience at the AGTA Gem Fair, Feb. 8. When asked by reporters about the Wall Street Journal’s article (that allegedly linked tanzanite to the terrorist network and which the newspaper cited as the inspiration for the law suit), O’Keefe suggested that while all of WSJ research seemed correct, the State Department and U.S. intelligence came to a much different conclusion. “And we have considerably more investigative power than the Wall Street Journal.”
In addition, representatives of the Tanzanite community vehemently denied any connection between their industry and al Qaeda, the newspaper reported.
Despite these statements, lawyers for the plaintiffs told the newspaper that their investigation shows otherwise.
The suit also names as defendants, bin Laden, the former Taliban government of Afghanistan, the Iraqi government, and accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
The suit was brought on behalf of the wives of a Cantor Fitzgerald LP broker and a New York police officer, and the father of a New York firefighter, the newspaper reported. The plaintiffs are currently anonymous but will probably have to disclose their identities if the case continues.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs are Paul Hanly of New York, a corporate defense lawyer who has defended asbestos clients, Mark Lanier of Texas, well-known for winning large judgments against the asbestos industry, and Ed Hayes, described in the newspaper article as a celebrity criminal and media lawyer who represents Robert DeNiro, had a cameo role in the movie “GoodFellas,” and was the inspiration for a defense lawyer in the Tom Wolfe novel, “Bonfire of Vanities.”
They told the newspaper that they are motivated by outrage over the Sept. 11 attacks and are working on the case free of charge.
Even if they prevail in court, it’s unlikely that they will receive any damages from most of the defendants. That’s because even though the U.S. and other countries have seized $104 million in assets allegedly connected to bin Laden, since Sept. 11, they would have to wait behind plaintiffs in the more than 3,600 pending suits against bin Laden stemming from the 1988 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.