This post is from Mike Dearington (a third-year law student at Vanderbilt University Law School) who discusses the DOJ’s FCPA-related enforcement action against the “foreign officials” in the Gerald and Patricia Green enforcement action.  Dearington previously authored this guest post on the action and provides an update below.

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Prosecutors Stymied by Thai Attorney General’s Office in Siriwan Case

Mike Dearington

Take a break from digesting the recently released FCPA guidance to read about happenings in a more remote region of the FCPA world.  For the second time since July, the court in United States v. Siriwan has asked the DOJ to show its cards with respect to its extradition request to Thailand.

Siriwan involves charges that Juthamas Siriwan, ex-governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, and her daughter, Jittisopa, accepted bribes from Hollywood movie executives Gerald and Patricia Green in exchange for contracts.  Prosecutors face a substantial hurdle in convincing the court that their novel use of the money‑laundering statute (MLCA) to prosecute the Siriwans is permissible even when the defendants are foreign officials otherwise outside the reach of the FCPA.  But based on a November 15 filing (here), prosecutors apparently face a separate hurdle in convincing the court to even reach the merits.  This is because, despite the government’s request, Thailand appears unprepared to extradite the Siriwans.

In July, the government reluctantly revealed that it had “not yet received a response from Thailand regarding extradition.”  The government has finally received its response.  Prosecutors filed a status report this past Thursday updating the court about the government’s struggle to obtain extradition from the Kingdom of Thailand.  Appended to the government’s status report is a translated letter from Thavorn Panichpant, Acting Thai Attorney General, stating that Thailand is “in the process of gathering further evidences [sic] before completing the investigation in order to bring both offenders to court to be formally charged. Hence, we must postpone the extradition of both [defendants] as requested by the U.S. Government, according to the Extradition Act . . . .”

The government has interpreted “postpone” as an indication that Thailand may be willing to ultimately extradite the Siriwans.  Prosecutors appended a letter from the US Office of Law Enforcement and Intelligence, a unit of the Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser, interpreting the Thai Acting Attorney General’s letter, “not as a rejection, nor an assertion of jurisdiction over this matter . . . .”  And in its brief, the prosecution argued that Thailand’s response “does not constitute a denial of the government’s extradition request.”  Nonetheless, it appears that Thailand’s response poses serious problems for prosecutors.

First, after reading the letter, the court may decline to exercise jurisdiction over the Siriwans in consideration of “the comity of nations.”  In Hilton v. Guyot, the Supreme Court in 1895 described comity, not as “a matter of absolute obligation . . . nor of mere courtesy and good will,” but rather as a “recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive or judicial acts of another nation . . . .”

Second, the court may decline to exercise jurisdiction based on the international-law principle of “reasonableness.”  Section 403 of The Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations suggests, “[A] state may not exercise jurisdiction to prescribe law with respect to a person or activity having connections with another state when the exercise of such jurisdiction is unreasonable.”  One of The Restatement’s reasonableness factors is “the extent to which another state may have an interest in regulating the activity,” a factor that weighs heavily in the Siriwans’ favor since the Thai Attorney General’s Office has expressed an interest in prosecuting the Siriwans domestically.

If the court decides to dismiss the action, it will probably operate as a dismissal with prejudice, even if dismissed without prejudice.  The statute of limitations for money laundering under § 1956 is five years, and the most recent act of money laundering allegedly occurred in March 2006.  Although the Ninth Circuit has yet to rule on the issue, courts in the Central District of California have typically held that, absent a savings clause, a statute of limitations continues to run despite a dismissal without prejudice, as if the original complaint had never been filed.  See, e.g., Sperling v. White (C.D. Cal. 1998). 

The letter from the Thai Attorney General’s Office could have a substantial impact on the DOJ’s efforts to curb foreign bribery.  If the court decides to dismiss the action, not only will prosecutors lose the opportunity to prosecute the Siriwans, but the DOJ will also lose the opportunity to test its novel prosecution theory that would allow it to hold foreign officials accountable for bribery via the money-laundering statute.  If the court dismisses the action, we can expect prosecutors to appeal such a dismissal as a final order.