Americans taken hostage in the 1979 siege of the U.S. Embassy in Iran sued JPMorgan Chase & Co. over David Rockefeller’s role in persuading the U.S. to allow the deposed Iranian leader into the country.
According to the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in New York, Rockefeller, then chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, lobbied the Carter administration to let the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, seek medical treatment in the U.S. That decision in turn incited the embassy takeover, in which some U.S. personnel were held for over a year.
The lawsuit follows a December New York Times story that reported new details of Rockefeller’s role based on previously sealed private records. Not only did the bank chairman lobby an initially resistant Carter, Rockefeller arranged visas for the shah’s entourage, mansions and private schools for his family and even the private jet that brought him to the U.S.
The suit accuses Chase, which merged with J.P. Morgan in 2000, of making a “deliberate effort to engineer one of the worst betrayals of Americans in our nation’s history — all to maximize profit and to support a foreign regime.”
A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Chase was one of the largest American banks operating in Iran at the time, and the country under the shah’s leadership was itself a major client. Rockefeller, who died in 2017, publicly acknowledged helping win the shah’s admission to the U.S., calling Pahlavi a “friend to the United States for 37 years,” according to contemporary news accounts.
David M. Roeder, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel living in North Carolina who was an attache at the embassy at the time, is the lead plaintiff in the suit, which is seeking class-action status on behalf of the hostages and their families. According to the complaint, Roeder was tortured and subjected to a mock execution during his 444 days in captivity.
The case is Roeder v JPMorgan Chase & Co., 20-cv-2400, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).