Formerly Private Cuba Bank Gets Chance For $456M Claim

May 8, 2019

Law360, New York (May 6, 2019, 1:54 PM EDT) — A Manhattan federal judge tasked counsel for a formerly private Cuba bank Monday with explaining why, under new Trump administration policy, it should get a $456 million chunk of $717 million that Societe Generale agreed to pay the U.S. government for violating Cuba sanctions.

At a quick hearing, U.S. District Judge Andrew L. Carter Jr. gave counsel for Banco Nunez, whose assets were taken by the Cuban government in 1960, until the end of May to detail its reasons for the potentially large claim.

“We don’t think that there’s a valid claim here,” counsel for the U.S., Alexander Wilson of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, told Judge Carter, without getting into specifics.

The judge set a briefing schedule to last through May 31.

In a Friday letter, the bank said a recent shift by President Donald Trump to allow for lawsuits against corporations trafficking in wrongfully confiscated Cuban property allows for it to make a claim against the SocGen dollars.

Banco Nunez said in the letter that the figure of $456 million is derived from the original value of the bank’s property in Cuba — roughly $4.9 million as of 1960 — compounded by decades of interest and then tripled, per U.S. anti-trafficking law.

The money forked over by the French megabank last year is susceptible to such a claim because, in agreeing to the settlement, SocGen admitted to “trafficking” in confiscated Cuba property, the letter said.

Banco Nunez’s Florida-based counsel Javier A. Lopez of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, who appeared via telephone Monday before Judge Carter, said in an email he would detail his claims in coming court filings.

Trump’s recent move to open the door to such lawsuits, by partially implementing a long-mothballed provision of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, has led to predictions that many claimants like Banco Nunez could come into court with similar claims.

Banco Nunez is represented by Javier A. Lopez of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton.

The government is represented by Alexander Wilson and Benet Kearney of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

The case is U.S. v. $717,200,000 in U.S. Currency, case number 1:18-cv-10783, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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#StigmaFreeYLD – Javier Lopez

May 7, 2019

JAVIER’S STORY

As lawyers, we are mostly allergic to vulnerability, taking off the masks that we wear on a daily basis and being honest with ourselves and our colleagues.  The truth is, I love being a lawyer, it is the privilege of my life to do what I love to do with partners whom I love to practice with. Unfortunately a commercial litigator, there are always winners and losers, and each side is always looking for a competitive or strategic advantage. It is a high-stress environment, and no side ever wants to “blink” first. This is just one of the reasons why mental health afflictions are pervasive in our legal community, yet are mostly suffered in secrecy. Why do we not discuss them more openly? Because to do so, we must make ourselves vulnerable, and that is scary and uncomfortable. Admitting our problems would require us to shed the “mask” we all wear on a daily basis. Yet, what I have learned through my experiences is that when you reveal your failures and your shortcomings, people will not love you less, they will love you more.Sadly, many perceive mental health issues to be a sign of weakness, and seeking help to be embarrassing or shameful. I humbly suggest that seeking help is the complete opposite; it is a sign of bravery and valor. These are certainly difficult conversations, but the difficult ones are usually the most important. Depression and anxiety are silent; they crawl inside of us, and many of us are scared to remove our mask. We lawyers experience anxiety and depression at rates that exceed other high-stress professions. We rank fourth in terms of suicide and are six times more likely to commit suicide as compared to the general population. These are sobering statistics. What do we do? How do we start to change these statistics? We need to educate ourselves on mental health and talk more about this so that we can allow ourselves to be more vulnerable, more accessible, more understanding, and, most importantly, more loving.

HOW JAVIER GOT HELP

So, at the risk of being embarrassed or showing weakness, I will start. In 2012 my best friend and hero, my father, passed away after a horrific fight with cancer. I was lost after he passed—angry, depressed, confused. I was in a very, very dark place. My mentor, partner, and dear friend Harley Tropin came into my office one day and told me it was okay, he was there, he understood, and he gave me a phone number of a therapist he knew. That phone number changed many things for me. The therapy was not easy, it was not short, and I doubt someone ever truly heals from such a loss, but without the professional help I received, I do not know how that chapter would have ended. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. I am now back in therapy as trying to deal with the loss of my 44 day old nephew a couple of months ago to a rare genetic disease.  As spouses, friends, family members, lawyers, and partners, we need to do a better job of listening. Listen to your colleagues; the most important truth may be said in jest. We are blessed to be able to practice law, it is a beautiful profession. With this blessing, I believe we have the responsibility to be there for each other, show up, be present. Just showing up can save a life.

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As Trump Allows Cuba Lawsuits, Young Lawyer Sees Vindication

By Jonathan Levin

Javier Lopez has spent hundreds of hours interviewing Cuban exiles and meticulously building cases for families who lost property after the 1959 revolution. He’s pored over obscure legal papers, Spanish-language newspaper articles and, in one case, a century-old parchment deed. Then, he stashed the suits in his computer: No court would hear them, and he couldn’t bill a cent.

On Thursday, the cases can come out again.

For the first time, the Trump administration will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts against firms operating on seized Cuban property, including multinational corporations based in Canada and Europe, which accounts for the island’s biggest source of foreign investment. In many cases, the companies entered the market decades after the land was expropriated, but they could be held accountable all the same.

Some Cuba watchers are projecting a flurry of legal activity, while foreign governments and corporations are preparing to defend billions in assets. The European Union and Canadian governments have jointly warned that suits could prompt them to complain to the World Trade Organisation. Among potential lawsuit targets are Swiss food company Nestle SA; Canadian miner Sherritt International Corp.; and Spanish hoteliers NH Hotel Group SA and Melia Hotels International SA, according to a list from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Lopez, 39, has been waiting for this day for the better part of the past decade.

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