Why we should care about Ellen M. Coin
Very soon Ms. Ellen Coin, a New York State Supreme Court Justice, will make a ruling regarding the disclosure of bank documents associated with a fugitive defendant, to a plaintiff who had won a three billion dollar lawsuit in a Montgomery County, Maryland, Circuit Court last February. The plaintiff’s lawyers had asked that eight international banks (with operations in the US) be forced to dig into their world-wide archives and provide all the banking transaction documents relevant for the case and for the enforcement of the judgment.
Why is this important?
Well, for two reasons. First, the person whose banking transaction documents are being sought is no one else but Ms. Rana Qleilat of the now defunct Al-Madina bank. The Plaintiff is the former owner of the bank, Mr. Adnan Abu-Ayash. If Ms. Ellen decides in favor of disclosure a lot of the murky world of Al-Madina bank and the many actors associated with it may come out of the thick fog that had shrouded it for years. The reverberations in Lebanon could be quite significant.
A ruling in favor of disclosure would have an even greater impact on the secrecy of international financial transactions more generally. It could set a precedent that would essentially push the disclosure standards of the United States onto the rest of the world, including banking jurisdictions which have continued to maintain a high degree of bank secrecy and protection of clients’ privacy. The international banks in question, which include HSBC, UBS, Credit Suisse and Unibanco of Brazil, among others, are fighting the disclosure request on precisely those grounds. Indeed, along with these banks’ lawyers, many around the world would consider it objectionable that, just because of the key role of the US in the global financial system, US courts would assume the right to determine the standards of privacy and disclosure of transactions between non-US individuals taking place through non-US banks. But the counter-argument is based on the very fact that the US and New York City are the hub of the international financial and banking markets and, therefore, have a special responsibility in setting those standards in order to help safeguard the integrity and rule of law in the global financial system as a whole.
Many will be watching Ellen's choice with interest.
But if you are among those who are wondering how far disclosure and transparency practices have reached in some countries like the United States, well, all you need to do is take a look at all the submissions, affidavits, motions and other material pertaining to the case on Justice Coin’s desk. They are all available to everyone, for free, on the New York Supreme Court Public Record web page: