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DOJ Argues That Esquenazi’s “Foreign Official” Challenge is Premature

The DOJ filed its response brief (here) in the Joel Esquenazi enforcement action – an action which, as described in this prior post, the defendant is challenging the DOJ’s “foreign official” interpretation.

As it did in the Nguyen / Nexus Technologies case (see here – middle of the post) the DOJ asserts as follows. “Although styled as a “motion to dismiss,” the defendants’ submission is instead a premature request for a ruling on the sufficiency of the government’s evidence concerning the status of officers of Telecommunications D’Haiti (“Haiti Teleco”) as a foreign officials of a government instrumentality before the evidence regarding that issue has been presented to the jury. The defendants’ arguments, which are premised on misstatements of both the law and the facts and are premature at best, will be moot after presentation of the government’s case. Therefore the defendants’ motion should be denied.”

The response brief contains a separate section on “the Nature of Haiti Teleco” and states as follows. “At the times relevant to the Indictment, between 2001 and 2004, Haiti Teleco held a state granted monopoly over land line telephone service in Haiti. During that time, Haiti Teleco was 97% state-owned by the Central Bank of Haiti, the Banque de la Republic of Haiti (“BRH”), which held 97% of Haiti Teleco’s shares. No one knows who owned the remaining 3% of Haiti Teleco’s shares, as no records still exist concerning their ownership, yet no person or company has claimed them in institutional memory. Therefore, effectively and functionally, during this period, Haiti Teleco operated with 100% state-ownership. Also during this period, Haiti Teleco was 100% state-controlled.”

The response brief asserts as follows. “… the defendants seek to circumvent the trial process and have the Court determine, before the presentation of any evidence, that the government has not met its burden of proving that Haiti Teleco was a instrumentality of a foreign government as defined by the FCPA. As will be demonstrated in the government’s case-in-chief, whether Haiti Teleco was an instrumentality of the Republic of Haiti is not a close case, a fact the defendants likely understand and therefore attempt to raise this issue before the evidence has been presented. Taken as true, the Indictment is more than sufficient to meet the Hagner standard and the precedent of this Circuit. Therefore, the motion should be denied.”

Under the heading, “Interpretation of the Term Government Instrumentality” the DOJ’s brief states in full as follows.

“The bulk of the defendants’ Motion focuses on suggesting that the Court adopt an insupportably narrow interpretation of government instrumentality that is contradicted by the statute on its face, case law, legislative history, and international treaties. The defendants’ proffered arguments are, in any event, arguments for jury instructions or for the Court after the government’s
case-in-chief pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. However, if the Court would like supplemental briefing on the meaning of “foreign official,” the government is more than willing to elaborate on how the FCPA’s plain text, its current interpretation by courts, its legislative history, and U.S. treaty obligations provide no support for the defendants’ novel and confusing definition. These sources confirm that the definition of “foreign official” includes officials of state-owned and state-controlled companies. Further, it is not limited to the narrow and ambiguous restriction that it applies only to “officials performing a public function.” DE 283 at 2. This tortured formulation finds no support, even in the sources the defendants themselves cite. The government stands prepared to brief and argue this issue again, should the defendants raise it, upon a Rule 29 motion or in the context of formulating jury instructions.”

The DOJ response brief also contains a section which argues that the term “foreign official” is not unconstitutionally vague.

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