An American family that is suing the Bank of China in a U.S. terrorism case accused Israel on Tuesday of caving to Chinese pressure by blocking a key witness from testifying.
The court filing included some potentially embarrassing accusations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he had barred the witness from testifying in order to bring "75 of his closest friends and family" on an official visit to China. This comes as China's foreign minister is visiting Israel.
The family of Daniel Wultz, a 16-year-old boy killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Israel, says that Palestinian terrorist groups transferred millions of dollars through the government-owned Chinese bank, even after Israel warned it of the transactions. The family is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, claiming the bank ignored the warnings. The Bank of China denies the allegations that it knowingly allowed Palestinian terrorists to use its accounts to finance their operations.
Last month, Israel prevented Uzi Shaya, a former counterterrorism agent, from testifying, citing unspecified security concerns.
In their court filing Tuesday, the family claimed that after years of support, Israel backed down under heavy Chinese pressure. It asked the court to reject Israel's motion and allow Shaya to testify.
"The complaint was filed only after the GOI [Government of Israel] repeatedly assured my attorneys that it would provide cooperation and support for our allegations," Daniel's father, Yekutiel Wultz, said in a written declaration.
"The GOI also identified and voluntarily designated Uzi Shaya as the witness," he said, adding that Shaya had made clear that he was happy to give evidence if allowed to.
Shaya has been identified in court papers as the key witness in the case. He participated in a number of meetings with Chinese officials and has expressed willingness to testify about the content of those discussions if Israel permits him.
In the documents, Wultz's parents say the Israeli government provided them with important documents, bank account numbers and other information to bolster their case. They also claim that Israel repeatedly said it would allow Shaya to testify before a sudden change of heart.
The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth reported last summer that China had threatened to cancel a visit by Netanyahu earlier in the year unless he agreed to prevent Shaya from testifying.
In a declaration, Wultz's mother, Sheryl Cantor Wultz, said Shaya told her last May that China was putting heavy pressure on Israel.
"Mr. Shaya told me that Prime Minister Netanyahu had wanted to visit China for a long time but was not invited to do so. Now he had been invited by high-level Chinese government officials for a special visit and was encouraged to bring 75 of his closest friends and family, who were treated like royalty. The trip was conditioned on Mr. Shaya not testifying," she said.
The family says that in a phone conversation last June, Netanyahu's then national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, "did not deny" his boss had succumbed to Chinese pressure.
"While we are respectful of China's interests, and of the diplomatic pressure to which Israel has been subjected, those interests and that pressure cannot be permitted to obstruct the ability of American courts to hear critical evidence," David Boies, the lead Wultz family lawyer, said in a statement.
Israel has not responded to charges it caved into Chinese pressure and has until Jan. 6 to file a response to the motion. On Tuesday, Netanyahu's office reiterated a Nov. 16 statement, which said Shaya's evidence might jeopardize international efforts to tackle terrorism.
Netanyahu led a delegation to China in May that the documents say included "five days of sightseeing and meetings."
The case has threatened to embarrass the prime minister, while his office declined comment.
The case is being tried in U.S. federal court because the financial transfers allegedly were processed by the bank's U.S. branches. Adding to the high profile of the case, Sheryl Cantor Wultz is a cousin of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia).
In addition to the Wultz family, nearly two dozen Israeli families of people killed in Palestinian violence are pursuing similar claims against the bank. Those families' lawyers are also seeking Shaya's testimony.