February 15, 2002
Sept. 11 Suit Filed Against Tanzanite Dealer and TAMIDA
Three relatives of Sept. 11 victims filed a wrongful death suit against STS Jewels Inc., New York City, and the Tanzanite Mineral Dealers Association, alleging the organizations knew their tanzanite sales helped support the al Qaeda terrorist network, reports The Wall Street Journal Feb. 15.
The plaintiffs seek an injunction banning STS Jewels from selling tanzanite and forcing it to contribute all proceeds from past tanzanite sales to a court-supervised Sept. 11 victims' relief fund. The suit also seeks $1 billion in compensatory damages from other defendants, including TAMIDA, Osama bin Laden, the former Taliban government of Afghanistan, the Iraqi government and accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
Even if the claimants win this suit, they'll have a hard time getting any monetary satisfaction from defendants such as bin Laden and the Taliban. But the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the tanzanite suit say they're optimistic the action can stop STS from selling tanzanite and force it to donate to the victims' fund, WSJ reports.
On Feb. 9, U.S. State Dept. official MIke O'Keefe told attendees at a
meeting at the Tucson gem shows there is currently no connection between tanzanite and terrorism. O'Keefe tells Professional Jeweler he can't disprove what was mentioned in court documents during a 2001 trial concerning U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa. The documents indicate an al Qaeda operative tried to sell tanzanite in the mid-1990s, though O'Keefe says the evidence is not definitive. "There are allegations that tanzanite was sold," he says. "However, I haven't seen conclusive evidence that it was."
WSJ says the new suit "was inspired by" its Nov. 16, 2001, report of a tie between tanzanite and al Qaeda. The plaintiffs' lawyers also relied on a follow-up article quoting from the diary of Wahid El-Hage, who was convicted for a role in the embassy bombings. In the journal, El Hage details attempts to sell tanzanite. The diary never said he completed a sale.
According to a letter from a lawyer for El-Hage to a U.S. tanzanite dealer obtained by Professional Jeweler, "It has been established only that between 1995 and 1997 Mr. El-Hage attempted to act as a broker in the tanzanite business in Kenya, and to market an extremely small quantity of such stones in Africa, Europe and the United States. He was never more than a minimal factor, if a factor at all, in that market, and did not make a significant number of sales of tanzanite. In addition, there was not any evidence offered that any money Mr. El-Hage may have received as payment for tanzanite ever was used or transferred for the purpose of use for terrorist or illegal activity."
"Anybody involved in Sept. 11 should have their economic viability destroyed," Mark Lanier, one of the plaintiff's lawyers, tells WSJ. Lanier is well known for winning large judgements from the asbestos industry. The other lawyers retained have been involved in asbestos cases and criminal and media cases. The newspaper identifies the plaintiffs as the wife of a Cantor Fitzgerald LP broker, the wife of a New York police officer and the father of a New York firefighter.
by Robert Weldon, G.G., and Peggy Jo Donahue