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Iran’s bid to release frozen bank assets from the US fails at the International Court of Justice


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In a blow to Iran, the International Court of Justice on Thursday rejected Tehran’s request to release about $2 billion in assets of Iran’s central bank that the United States has frozen.

The money was intended to be used as compensation for the victims of various attacks linked to Iran, including the 1983 bombing in Lebanon.

However, in a partial victory for Tehran, ICC judges ruled that Washington had unlawfully allowed the courts to freeze the assets of some Iranian companies and ordered the US to pay compensation, the amount of which will be determined later.

In a 10-5 majority ruling, the ICJ said it had no jurisdiction to decide the Iranian case involving the Central Bank of Iran.

The deputy head of the International Tribunal, Kirill Gevorgyan, said the majority “support the objection to the jurisdiction presented by the United States of America in connection with the claims of the Islamic Republic of Iran” concerning the bank.

In a complex 67-page ruling, the international court also found that some other US moves to confiscate assets of Iran and Iranians in the United States breach a 1955 treaty between the two countries and said they must negotiate compensation. If they fail to reach a number, they will have to return to the Hague court for a ruling.

But the bulk of the case has focused on the central bank, its frozen assets of $1.75 billion in bonds, plus accrued interest, held in a Citibank account in New York. The court said it had no jurisdiction based on the 1955 Treaty of Amity because the protection it offered did not extend to central banks.

The teams of lawyers from the two countries who attended Thursday’s session did not comment on the verdict.

In hearings last year, Iran called the asset freeze an attempt to destabilize the Tehran government and a violation of international law.

Iran took its claim to the World Court in 2016 after the US Supreme Court ruled that money owned by Iran’s central bank could be used as compensation for the 241 US soldiers killed in a 1983 bombing, which is believed to be linked to Tehran.

And after the bombing of a US military base in Lebanon, a second explosion nearby killed 58 French soldiers. Iran denied involvement, but a US District Court judge found Tehran responsible in 2003. The judge’s ruling said Iran’s ambassador to Syria at the time called “a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and ordered him to incite the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks.”

In hearings last year, the head of the US legal team, Richard Fisk, told the judges that they must invoke, for the first time, a legal principle known as “unclean hands,” according to which a state cannot sue for its criminal actions in connection with the case.

However, the court’s ruling on Thursday rejected that defense.

Iran has argued that the asset freeze is a violation of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, which promised friendship and cooperation between the two countries. There have been no diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran since armed students seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

The justices accepted claims by US lawyers that the frozen central bank assets were state property not covered by the treaty, which Washington terminated in 2018 in response to an order from the International Court of Justice in a separate case lifting some sanctions against Iran.

Court rulings are final and legally binding.

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