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How Should the District Court in Siriwan Interpret Thailand’s Response to the US Government’s Extradition Request?

Today’s post is from Mike Dearington, a third-year law student at Vanderbilt University Law School.  The post concerns the DOJ’s FCPA-related enforcement action against the “foreign officials” in the Gerald and Patricia Green enforcement action. Dearington previously authored guests posts here and here on the action and provides an update below.


How Should the District Court in Siriwan Interpret Thailand’s Response to the US Government’s Extradition Request?

Prosecutors in United States v. Siriwan filed a response last week (here) to address arguments raised by the Siriwans in mid-January.  Arguing against dismissal, prosecutors advanced the government’s position that Thailand’s responses to the US extradition request indicate that “Thailand has not asserted sole jurisdiction” over the Siriwans.

To recap, the Siriwan case has garnered significant attention because of the government’s novel prosecution tactic:  In 2009, prosecutors charged Juthamas Siriwan, ex-Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, as well as her daughter Jittisopa, with money laundering in connection with alleged bribe receipts remitted by Gerald and Patricia Green (see here for the prior FCPA Professor post).  The FCPA cannot reach Juthamas Siriwan because she is a foreign official, a limitation pronounced in United States v. Castle.  Thus, prosecutors charged Siriwan with money laundering in promotion of bribery in hopes of avoiding the FCPA’s shortcoming—a tactic the defense deemed a “novel and untested . . . theory.”

But prosecutors face a hurdle in what Judge Wu has called “a very important case in an area which is very, very difficult.”  Indeed, in a January 2012 hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss, Judge Wu expressed reluctance with “the government’s position that [it] can somehow get around” the FCPA by charging defendants under the Money Laundering Control Act (MLCA).  But an additional hurdle stands in the way of the court even reaching this money-laundering issue.

That hurdle is the United States’ treaty with Thailand.  In the January 2012 hearing, Judge Wu stated:

“I would not feel comfortable reaching final conclusions until I figure out or unless I am informed how the government of Thailand is viewing the situation . . . .  [I]f Thailand says it’s not going to extradite, I will find that Thailand has a dominant interest . . . because they will have expressed it to me in no uncertain terms.  If they agree to the extradition, then all of the issues are open and that means I’ll have to decide them all.”

In sum, the court suggested it might not reach a decision on whether prosecutors can proceed under an MLCA theory until the court first decides whether Thailand has a dominant interest or not.

To complicate matters, Thailand has neither agreed to, nor rejected, the government’s extradition request.  By July 2012, Thailand had made no response to US overtures. Finally, in November 2012, the Acting Thai Attorney General notified prosecutors that it was gathering evidence to charge the Siriwans and “must postpone the extradition process” pursuant to the treaty.  And in December 2012, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the US Embassy that a “criminal case will be filed” against Siriwan and therefore extradition proceedings “must be postponed . . . .”

Thus, the determinative question at this stage is how the court will interpret Thailand’s response.  On one hand, based on the court’s statements in January 2012, if the court views Thailand’s response and postponement of extradition proceedings as an expression of sole jurisdiction and a refusal to extradite, it will probably dismiss the indictment finding that Thailand has a dominant interest.  In support of dismissal, the defense argued in January that Thailand has expressed “sovereign interest,” and that Thailand’s position and “official[]” postponement “suggest[] the Thai government feels that extradition and prosecution here ‘may affect the international relation.’”

On the other hand, if the court views Thailand’s response not as a refusal, but as a mere delay, the case will likely remain on the court’s docket at least until the Thai Attorney General’s Office concludes its investigation and prosecution.  In the government’s filing last week, prosecutors argued that Thailand has “not made any . . . notification . . . nor has it otherwise signaled that international relations may be impaired . . . by the government’s prosecution.”  Of Thailand’s position, prosecutors stated “Thailand asserts no definitive position on any aspect of the government’s extradition request. . . . Thailand’s only affirmative statement is that it is postponing review of the request for the time being.”  Prosecutors accused the defense of “tr[ying] again and again to invent and interject into this case a conflict with Thailand that, in fact, does not exist,” and also of “inappropriately asserting self-serving and unfounded claims on behalf of Thailand.”

The court will need to first decide the jurisdiction question before even reaching, if at all, the legitimacy of prosecutors’ MLCA theory.  Even if the court ultimately approves the theory, however, the Siriwan proceeding portends the delays and difficulties treaties might pose for the government in seeking to prosecute foreign officials in the future.  A hearing on these issues is scheduled for February 21.

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