Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Iraq dealings still plaguing oilman Wyatt
By Alexander Besant - Hearst Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — An attorney for Texas oil mogul Oscar Wyatt said Friday that a pending lawsuit accusing Wyatt of indirectly funding Hamas terrorists could have wide-ranging ramifications for the U.S. oil industry.

Wyatt, who was released from prison last year after serving a year for his role in an oil-for-food scandal that rocked the United Nations, now is facing a lawsuit from more than 50 Israeli citizens. They claim that bribes Wyatt paid to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s government make him liable for the deaths or injuries of their family members who fell victim to Hamas suicide bombings.

“If buying oil from Iraq makes you an accomplice in terrorism, then we’re all in a world of hurt,” said Carl Parker of Port Arthur, Wyatt’s lawyer, who for many years was a state senator.
“If my clients are stuck, then all oil companies in the United States are stuck,” Parker said.
The case was moved this week from U.S. District Court in Washington to Houston, where the transactions took place.

The case is being brought against Wyatt under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which allows foreign citizens to have their cases heard in U.S. courts.

The plaintiffs are asking for $1 billion in damages from Wyatt and his company, NuCoastal Corp., claiming he was aware such money was used as a “financial reward and incitement program which rewarded the families of martyrs and suicide bombers in an effort to incentivize acts of terrorism.”

Wyatt’s troubles with the law began in 2004, when he was named by the CIA for having been awarded vouchers by the Iraqi government to secure lucrative oil contracts.

In 2007, the Texas businessman pleaded guilty for paying kickbacks to Iraq under the oil-for-food program, which was shut down in 2003 after revelations of collusion between oil companies, U.N. officials and the Iraqi government came to light.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

U.S. Court Allows Human Rights Suit Against former Bolivian President and Defense Minister to Proceed

Washington, D.C. 15 November (Asiantribune.com):
The U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida ruled November 9 that the claims for crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killings could move forward in two related U.S. cases against former Bolivian president and former Bolivian defense minister.
The court allowed the case to proceed under the Alien Tort Statute, a U.S. federal legislation.
Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled that Bolivian plaintiffs have viable claims against former president Sánchez de Lozada and former defense minister Sánchez Berzaín. Each of these plaintiffs has brought claims on behalf of a deceased relative who was targeted by forces under the defendants’ command.

“The decision is a great victory for the plaintiffs, whose family members were shot—targeted by Bolivian security forces commanded by the defendants,” said Judith Brown Chomsky, a cooperating attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “This judgment reaffirms that U.S. courts can hear actions brought against those who abuse human rights.”
The complaints allege that in September and October 2003, Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín ordered Bolivian security forces to use deadly force, including high-powered rifles and machine guns, to suppress popular protests against government policies by targeting unarmed civilians in the indigenous Aymara community.

“This decision is a reminder that foreign heads of state cannot act with impunity,” said James Cavallaro, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School and a Clinical Professor of Law. “It’s a powerful example of how international law is making it harder for those who violate human rights to escape accountability simply by fleeing to another country.”

On October 17, 2003, both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín fled to the United States. The complaints were filed in September 2007.

There was no explanation if both of them have legal permanent status to reside in the United States or if a U.S. court could exercise jurisdiction over anyone who has alleged to have committed atrocities and human rights violations in their home countries while being on American soil.

The Florida court’s action seems to give a judicial explanation under the Alien Tort Statute that they could be prosecuted for such alleged crimes even if they do not have legal resident status.
The U.S. government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, under many federal laws, has direct jurisdiction over naturalized citizens or Green Card Holders for their alleged atrocities and human rights violations committed in their home countries during internal disturbances.

“Six years after directing security forces to target Bolivian civilians, Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín move one step closer to having to answer for their actions in a court of law,” said Jeremy Bollinger, an attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
The cases, Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez Berzaín, and Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada, seek compensatory and punitive damages under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

If U.S. authorities intend targeting to prosecute in the judicial system of any alien who in their understanding has committed atrocities and human rights violations in their home countries this Florida court order to proceed with the Bolivian president and defense minister clearly indicates that such an action can only be avoided by keeping away from the American soil.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Baker Botts Beats Back Alien Tort Suits Against Drummond (Again)
By Andrew Longstreth

Two years ago Baker Botts partner William Jeffress won a defense verdict for coal mining company Drummond in what was believed to be the first Alien Tort Claims Act case to go to trial. Despite the verdict--which was later upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit--Drummond is still facing litigation over the 2001 murder of three union leaders at a Colombian mine.But the plaintiffs suing Drummond haven't gotten very far. On Monday, Birmingham federal district court judge R. David Proctor dismissed a suit brought by the children of the murdered union leaders, whose complaint included new allegations surrounding the killings. Judge Proctor found that some of the plaintiffs were barred from the new case because their claims were already decided in Drummond's previous Alien Tort Statute trial. And the remaining plaintiffs, he ruled, lacked standing because the ATS does not permit children of victims to seek damages for themselves.The judge did not dismiss a related suit brought by relatives of victims of violence in Columbia. But he didn't let the case proceed, either. Judge Proctor ruled that the plaintiffs' claims were insufficient as pled, but he gave them leave to try again.

Plaintiffs counsel Terry Collingsworth of Conrad & Scherer told The Birmingham News that he would amend the relatives' complaint to satisfy Judge Proctor. "We are going to provide the new level of detail the court requires," he said. He also said he would consider appealing the dismissal of the suit brought by the slain union leaders' children.Collingsworth, who's one of the best-known Alien Tort plaintiffs lawyers in the country, lost an important Eleventh Circuit appeal of ATS claims against Coca-Cola and its bottlers in August. (Here's the report on that ruling.) Drummond defense counsel Jeffress told us the Eleventh Circuit's ruling helped Drummond in the cases before Judge Proctor.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Supreme Court Asks Solicitor General to Opine in Pfizer Alien Torts Case; Pfizer Brings Quinn Emanuel on Board - By Alison Frankel

November 02, 2009

With corporate America itching for the U.S. Supreme Court to reign in use of the Alien Torts Statute for suits alleging overseas wrongdoing, the case that may redefine the parameters of the ATS is shaping up as a battle of ex-Harvard Law professors. On Monday the Court asked U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan (the former Harvard dean) to weigh in on Pfizer Inc v. Rabi Abdullahi, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit revived the claims of Nigerians who allege they were grievously harmed when they were administered a Pfizer meningitis drug in a government-approved clinical trial. (Here's the Second Circuit ruling)