The Chinese connection: A Jewish-American family's quest to find those responsible for their son's death
After their son Daniel was murdered in a Tel Aviv terror attack in 2006, the Wultz family decided to fight back in the courts. The latest stage in their battle targets the Chinese bank they believe laundered funds for the implicated terror organizations.
A globe-spanning legal battle being fought by a Jewish-American family against those who were involved in the murder of their son − in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv seven years ago − has uncovered the existence of a sophisticated international network to finance Palestinian terrorism.
A new suit in the case, filed recently in a New York court with the encouragement of the Israeli government, has greatly embarrassed the authorities in China. Beijing, which according to the family knowingly ignored Israeli warnings that a Chinese bank was being used to launder terrorist funds, is trying to put pressure on Israel to curb the judicial proceedings.
Daniel Cantor Wultz, from Weston, Florida, was 16 when he was critically wounded in an attack at the Rosh Ha’ir shawarma restaurant, near the Old Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, on April 17, 2006. Wultz, who died of his wounds a little less than a month later, was the 11th fatality of the suicide attack, perpetrated by a Palestinian terrorist from the Islamic Jihad organization. Daniel’s father, Israeli-born Tuly (Yekutiel) Wultz, who was vacationing with his son, suffered serious wounds in the blast.
Daniel’s mother, Sheryl Cantor Wultz, is the cousin of U.S. Congressman Eric Cantor, Republican from Virginia, the House Majority Leader. The family is very active in the Chabad community in Weston, and deeply attached to Israel.
“Daniel loved Israel so much, he wanted to live there,” Sheryl said in a phone interview with Haaretz on Tuesday. “He said this was his home, and that’s how we thought of this country [Israel]. When he was brought to the emergency room, he was conscious, and he told the doctors ‘I want to live.’”
For nearly a month, Daniel hovered between life and death, at Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital), Tel Aviv, and his mother never left his side. “For 27 days I lived through this. I lived with my stomach in my mouth. Every day I felt like someone took a baseball bat and hit me in my stomach. That’s how I felt for 27 days,” she said, her voice breaking with tears.
A few months after the attack, Daniel’s parents established the Daniel Cantor Wultz Foundation. Among its activities, the foundation seeks “to create a safer world by fighting terrorism through education, service and sports initiatives.”
At the same time, Daniel’s parents filed suit for compensatory and punitive damages, against the Syrian and Iranian governments, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. They were assisted by the Israeli organization Shurat HaDin − Israel Law Center, which specializes in legal and economic battles against terrorist organizations and the governments that abet them. In May 2012, the court awarded the family damages in the unprecedented amount of $332 million − of which the family has not seen one cent.
Chief Judge Royce Lamberth held the two governments responsible for the attack, because the headquarters of Islamic Jihad is in Damascus and the organization is financed by Iran. More recently, the family decided to continue with the legal battle, this time setting its sights on a bigger target: the Bank of China, that country’s largest bank (and one of the biggest in the world), which at the time of the attack was wholly owned by the government of China (it now holds a 70 percent stake in the institution).
The Wultzes say it was the Israeli government that pressed them to launch legal proceedings in the case, in 2007. “We decided to prevent other families from suffering what we went through,” Tuly Wultz told Haaretz. “A year or two after Daniel was killed, the Israeli government came to us through our lawyers and asked us to help them with an important mission: to prevent the flow of money to terrorists. And they provided us with evidence about the Bank of China’s financial involvement in the bombing that claimed Daniel’s life, among others.
“For us it was a great feeling that we could really accomplish a very important thing − to help the Israeli government and help fight terror, to stop the money flow to terrorists.”
Weren’t you apprehensive about opening old wounds, of having to face questions about your son’s death?
“For us there was no doubt, because when, God forbid, something like this happens to a family, your family is destroyed,” Sheryl said. “It will never be the same again, and you think about many things in life, and you feel more about what you can do to make a positive difference in this world. And so that aspect of it [facing questions in court] didn’t matter. What more could they do to us than what they had already done?”
In their new suit, Daniel’s parents are drawing on testimonies taken from Israeli intelligence personnel. In May 2009, during the proceedings against Iran and Syria, the family submitted an affidavit (in English - see above) from Shlomo Matalon. In the declaration, he states that he “retired from service in the Prime Minister’s Office in 2007 with the rank of department head.” Matalon testified that Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Gaza Strip received extensive economic aid via labyrinthine routes, in which the Bank of China played a central role.
According to Matalon, between 2003 and 2008, the offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Syria and Iran transferred millions of dollars to their operatives in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They made use of bank accounts belonging to a Palestinian named Said al-Shurafa, who lived in China, and some of his relatives who lived with him there (see separate box, page B3).
Matalon stated that in April 2005, a year before the attack in the Tel Aviv restaurant, a meeting was held in China between members of the Israeli Counterterrorism Bureau (which is subordinate to the National Security Council) and their local counterparts. In the meeting, the Israelis warned that the bank was being used to launder terrorist funds and asked the Chinese government to prevent additional transfers.
According to Matalon, the financial transfers continued at least until the beginning of 2008. Matalon testified that Shurafa “served as an operative and agent” of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. One shipment of goods that Shurafa transferred from China to Gaza − where they were to be sold, with the profits accruing to the terrorist organizations − was seized and confiscated by Israel. Israel also presented proof that Shurafa received money from people involved in transactions with a Chinese company specializing in the manufacture of missiles. This company had been added to the American boycott list after being caught trading with Iran, in contravention of the sanctions against that country.
The warning to the Chinese was issued as part of a broad struggle waged by Israel, with the aim of thwarting the transfer of terrorist funds to Palestinian organizations in the territories, especially at the height of the second intifada. Intelligence collected by Israel in that period showed that a large part of the funds was sent from Iran and Persian Gulf states, in the guise of assistance from Islamic charitable organizations or private businessmen. The money transferred was used to purchase weapons, train terrorists, and assist the families of operatives who were killed while perpetrating suicide attacks or in clashes with Israeli army forces.
As part of the campaign, a joint forum of the intelligence services was established, with the participation of the Mossad, the Shin Bet, Military Intelligence and the National Security Council. Some of the information amassed was transmitted − through the NSC and the Foreign Ministry − to other countries, in an effort to block the money-transfer channels. In one case, Israel asked the United States to block the transfer of funds through a well-known American bank.
Under the U.S. law that the Wultz family is invoking to claim compensation from the Bank of China, the claimants need only prove that the bank deliberately ignored the use of accounts for terrorist funding. However, the family’s attorneys, David Boies and Lee Wolosky, maintain that the bank is responsible for damages in the attack in which Daniel was killed, because it knowingly provided banking services to terrorists. The lawyers say that bank officials may also have been present in the meeting with the Israelis − just as they participated in another meeting, between representatives of the government of China and counterterrorist experts from the U.S. administration.
According to the Wultz family, the nature of the activities that were conducted in the Shurafa accounts, along with their content and scale − millions of dollars over a few years − should have made the bank suspect that the money was being used for illegal goals, even before Israel cautioned the Chinese authorities. The transfer of millions of dollars, part of it in cash, is inconsistent with the declaration made by the holder of the accounts that he was the owner of a small fashion business in China, they allege.
The claimants note that several members of the Gaza-based Shurafa family are known terror activists. The home of Said Shurafa’s father, in Gaza, was bombed by the Israeli air force in August 2006, with Israel claiming that the house was used as an armory by Islamic Jihad. The members of the family received telephone warnings and were told to leave the house before it was bombed. Another family member was arrested by Israel in 2005, on suspicion of terrorist activity.
Yet another relative (his relationship to Said is unclear from the documents) was arrested by the American authorities and is in custody at the notorious Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba, on suspicion of having been a member of Al-Qaida. This individual, who lived in Saudi Arabia, spent five months with his Gaza relatives in 2001. He says he was in Gaza for academic studies. He told his interrogators that he met with a Hamas leader during this period and considered perpetrating a suicide attack in Israel. Later, he trained in camps of Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, until he was arrested by Pakistani authorities and handed over to the Americans.
The claimants are not only relying on Matalon’s declaration, which was submitted in the previous suit. An Israeli who held a senior security position at the time, and who actually took part in the meeting in which the Chinese were cautioned in 2005, has agreed to testify about what was said at the meeting. (The family’s lawyers are not divulging his identity at present.)
In a letter he submitted to the court on March 20, 2013, the senior official states that he will agree to make a declaration in Israel, in the presence of lawyers from both sides, and to undergo questioning and cross-examination. At the same time, he is making his testimony conditional on the presence of lawyers and information-security experts representing the State of Israel. This would be a rare case of testimony by a senior Israeli security official within the framework of a civil judicial proceeding in the United States.
Last month, the New York court ordered the Bank of China to submit numerous documents relating to the suit, including correspondence between the Chinese government and the bank about the Israeli warning. The court took this step even though the bank’s lawyers deny that any such meeting in 2005, at which Israel cautioned the Chinese authorities, even took place.
“The Chinese are extremely vulnerable in this case,” says a source familiar with the matter. “They have been ordered to produce thousands of documents and now they’re being forced to fly senior bank officials in from China to New York to give testimony under oath. It’s unprecedented.”
The Bank of China previously filed a motion to dismiss the case, in 2009 (when it was being heard in Washington prior to moving to New York, where the Bank of China has a branch). Its motion stated that the plaintiffs had no legal right to sue the Bank of China “because their injuries are not ‘fairly traceable’ to the wire transfers. BOC has no connection with the terrorists who planned and carried out the April 17, 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.” The motion also added that “BOC has no connection with the numerous Iranian and Syrian named defendants.”
The Chinese bank also argued that neither the United States nor Israel had any jurisdiction “over the allegations that BOC violated the Anti-Terrorism Act ... These allegations involve political questions implicating issues of foreign relations which are not judicially cognizable.”
The suit against the Chinese bank is likely to draw considerable media attention, and the Wultz family is readying itself accordingly. David Boies was one of Al Gore’s lawyers in the alleged voting fraud case in Florida in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, and has been involved in many other high-profile cases; and Lee Wolosky previously served as a White House adviser in the war on terrorism.
The more documents the Wultz family submits, and the more requests it makes in the new suit, the more concerned the Chinese become. Echoes of that concern recently reached Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China last month, an event to which Israel attached special importance in the hope of extending the diplomatic and economic coordination between the two countries. It seems though that in the background, the hosts worked to get across their fears about the affair to the visiting Israeli officials.
“The Chinese want to do everything to make this suit go away,” says the source who is following the behind-the-scenes activity. As far as is known, Netanyahu has not yet responded to the request directly. In response to a question from Haaretz, the Prime Minister’s Office says that “the subject did not come up in the prime minister’s meetings in China.”