U.S. judge orders $1.68 billion payout to families over 1983 Beirut bombing

The witness stand (rear L) and the judge's chair (rear C), face towards the defense table (L) and prosecution table (R), in Part 31, Room 1333 of the New York State Supreme Court, Criminal Term at 100 Centre Street, in New York

By Jody Godoy

(Reuters) -A federal judge in New York ordered Iran's central bank and a European intermediary on Wednesday to pay out $1.68 billion to family members of troops killed in the 1983 car bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said a 2019 federal law stripped Bank Markazi, the Iran central bank, of sovereign immunity from the lawsuit, which sought to enforce a judgment against Iran for providing material support to the attackers.

The lawsuit also names Luxembourg-based Clearstream Banking SA, which is holding the assets in a client account. Clearstream parent company Deutsche Boerse AG said on Wednesday that it is considering appealing against the decision.

Clearstream will "weigh all relevant interests and responsibilities" and comply with its legal and regulatory obligations in handling the funds, Deutsche Boerse said.

The exchange said that it does not view the ruling as increasing the risk from the lawsuit in a way that would require the companies to make financial provisions.

Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Oct. 23, 1983, bombing at the Marine Corps barracks killed 241 U.S. service members.

Victims and their families won a $2.65 billion judgment against Iran in federal court in 2007 over the attack.

Six years later, they sought to seize bond proceeds allegedly owned by Bank Markazi and processed by Clearstream to partially satisfy the court judgment.

Bank Markazi has argued that the lawsuit was not allowed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which generally shields foreign governments from liability in U.S. courts.

In January 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling in the families' favor, and ordered the case to be reconsidered in light a the new law, adopted a month earlier as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Preska said the 2019 law authorizes U.S. courts to allow the seizure of assets held outside the country to satisfy judgments against Iran in terrorism cases, "notwithstanding" other laws such as FSIA that would grant immunity.

A Luxembourg court in 2021 ordered Clearstream not to move the funds until a court in that country recognizes the U.S. ruling. Clearstream has appealed that decision.

The case is Peterson et al v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-09195.

(Reporting by Jody Godoy in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)