Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Judge Denies Esquenazi's "Foreign Official" Challenge

In a cursory November 19th opinion (see here) devoid of substantive analysis, Judge Jose Martinez (S.D. Fla.) denied Joel Esquenazi's "foreign official" challenge. (See here and here for prior posts).

Esquenazi's challenge was launched by a lawyer with no apparent FCPA expertise and his brief did not even scratch the surface as to the FCPA's extensive legislative history regarding the "foreign official" element. Esquenazi's "foreign official" brief was just one of several dismissal motions (such as selective and vindictive prosecution and spoilation of defense favorable evidence) filed over a brief time period - a factor which perhaps influenced Judge Martinez's view of Esquenazi's otherwise valid "foreign official" challenge - an issue at the core of a significant number of recent FCPA enforcement actions.

In its November 17th response, the DOJ termed Esquenazi's challenge premature. The DOJ did offer to provide supplemental briefing on the meaning of "foreign official" "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."

Against this backdrop, within 48 hours of the DOJ's response, Judge Martinez denied Esquenazi's challenge.

The substance of Judge Martinez's decision is as follows.

"The Court [...] finds that the Government has sufficiently alleged that Antoine and Duperval were foreign officials by alleging that these individuals were directors in the state-owned Haiti Teleco. Any factual arguments Defendant has on this point may be addressed at trial."

"The Court also disagrees that Haiti Teleco cannot be an instrumentality under the FCPA's definition of foreign official. The plain language of this statute and the plain meaning of this term show that as the facts are alleged in the indictment Haiti Teleco could be an instrumentality of the Haitian government."

As to Esquenazi's vagueness challenge, the Court stated as follows.

"... the Court also disagrees that the phrase 'department, agency, or instrumentality' in the definition of 'foreign official' is unconstitutionally vague. 'Vagueness arises when a statute is so unclear as to what conduct is applicable that persons of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.' Defendant has not met this standard, and the Court find that persons of common intelligence would have fair notice of this statute's prohibitions."

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