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Washington lawyer Thomas Fay has spent years hounding the Libyan government for money on behalf of victims of terrorist attacks. Now he hopes to collect � from American companies. Fay has sent letters to 13 corporations, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., notifying them that if he wins his case against Libya, he’ll be coming after them. He has even sent one to White & Case, the prominent law firm that recently signed on to defend Libya. The gambit stems from a change in the law meant to make it easier for plaintiffs to secure judgments and collect from countries found responsible for sponsoring terrorist attacks. Until recently, those who had prevailed in court had few options for collecting. But on Jan. 28, President George W. Bush signed a bill amending the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to allow plaintiffs to seek any asset owned by the terrorist-sponsoring country in reach of American courts, including frozen accounts or property managed by others. The amendment permits victims to request punitive damages, which they couldn’t before, and eliminates some avenues for appeal. Under the new law, plaintiffs with pending cases had 60 days to file or refile claims. While plaintiffs’ lawyers headed to court, Libya moved to revamp its legal strategy. The country’s longtime counsel, solo practitioner Arman Dabiri, withdrew recently, saying Libya asked him to do so. In a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last month, Libya said it planned to substitute a White & Case team led by Christopher Curran in place of Dabiri. “Libya believes a new litigation approach in the United States is urgently required,” the March 17 motion said, “and a new approach will serve to further the great strides Libya has taken, and continues to take, to rebuild its relations with the United States over the past five years.” Curran, the Washington-based head of litigation at White & Case, has defended Jordan, Vietnam and Kazakhstan. He declined to comment on the case. The shift in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act is aimed specifically at the five countries on the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, including Iran and Syria, which have few ties to the United States. But Libya is a special case. It came off the list two years ago, and American companies have begun to invest there � potentially exposing them to multimillion-dollar terrorism judgments. Libya and several business groups are asking that Congress exempt Libya from the new law. R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the law will “chill” companies considering operations with Libya. “A company doing business over there is liable to lose its investments,” he said. “That’s going to deter many companies from going in.” Fay said that’s not his problem. “I don’t have much sympathy for these businesses,” he said. “If they are holding Libyan property, it is subject to being seized, simple as that.” ‘They’re playing with fire’ For decades, foreign countries were immune to lawsuits in the United States. That changed in 1996, but even after, when victims won in court, they often couldn’t collect because the countries’ assets weren’t available to them. Fay represents 38 victims from the 1986 Libyan-sponsored La Belle disco bombing in West Berlin, mostly American service members, for whom he seeks more than $100 million in damages. The bombing prompted U.S. air strikes 10 days later against Libyan military sites. The legal case has dragged on for seven years. In 2006, Fay said, he thought he had reached a deal with Libya to settle the case. But after Libya was removed from the terrorism list, Fay said, the country did not come through. A motion to enforce the “settlement agreement” has been sitting in federal court in Washington for almost two years. No trial date has been set for his clients’ case. Fed up with delays, Fay and his co-counsel, Steven Perles of Washington’s Perles Law Firm, hired lobbying help � from Richmond, Va.-based McGuireWoods and Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher � and worked with members of Congress to get a new bill that would make litigation easier. Senators Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., pushed the legislation, which received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Fay even registered as a lobbyist. After negotiating an exemption for the fledgling Iraqi government, Bush approved the measure, which was part of a 2008 defense bill. Before the March 28 deadline, lawyers filed 15 civil cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Lynn Derbyshire, whose brother, Marine Captain Vincent Smith, was killed in the 1983 Beirut, Lebanon, Marines barracks blast for which the Iranian government was later found responsible, said companies working with any of these governments take a big risk. “These countries don’t have a very good track record,” she said. “So if businesses are working with them, they’re playing with fire.” Fay acknowledged that he can’t say for sure what Libyan property is held by the companies he has targeted. But he believes these companies have business ties to the Libyan government due to their affiliation with groups like the U.S.-Libya Business Association. The association did not return calls for comment. Chevron is “aware of the lien, and we are evaluating our legal options,” Kent Robertson, a media relations adviser, said in an e-mail. “At this point we can’t speculate about next steps.” The other companies either didn’t respond to messages or declined to comment.

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