By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – The family of the former owners of a Cuban bank seized by Fidel Castro’s government nearly six decades ago sued Societe Generale <SOGN.PA> for approximately $792 million (£633 million), saying the French bank owes damages for circumventing U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
In a complaint filed on Wednesday with the U.S. District Court in Miami, 14 grandchildren of Carlos and Pura Nuñez, who once owned Banco Nuñez, want to hold Societe Generale liable under U.S. law for doing business with Cuba’s central bank, which nationalized Banco Nuñez and other lenders in 1960.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs said he believed the case was the first against a bank that allegedly “trafficked” in property expropriated by the Castro regime, since the Trump administration said in April it would begin letting U.S. nationals sue companies for such conduct.
“Victims of the Cuban regime who had their property confiscated now have a vehicle to get justice,” Javier Lopez, the lawyer, said in an interview. “We have multiple financial institutions that we’re looking to target.”
Societe Generale did not immediately respond to requests for comment after market hours.
The lawsuit was filed eight months after Societe Generale agreed to pay $1.34 billion and enter a deferred prosecution agreement to settle U.S. and New York regulatory charges that it handled billions of dollars of transactions related to Cuba and other countries under U.S. sanctions.
According to the plaintiffs, Societe Generale generated hundreds of millions of dollars of fees by lending money to and processing transactions for Banco Nacional de Cuba from 2000 to 2010.
The plaintiffs said they own a claim to 10.5% of the equity in Banco Nacional de Cuba, roughly the percentage that Banco Nuñez represented when it was seized.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton based the $792 million damages estimate on Banco Nuñez’s $7.8 million worth at the time, plus 6% annual interest and triple damages under the Helms-Burton Act, a 1996 federal law.
The right to sue under that law had been suspended for 23 years because of opposition from the international community and concern that U.S. courts could be overrun by lawsuits.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the lifting of that suspension in April, to boost pressure on Havana to end Cuban support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.
The case is Sucesors de Don Carlos Nuñez y Doña Pura Galvez Inc v Societe Generale SA, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 19-22842.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)