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Austrian court restarts US extradition proceedings for Ukrainian
Breaking Legal News | 2023/06/12 11:44
An Austrian court said Friday that it has ruled in favor of Ukrainian businessman Dymitro Firtash in a years-long legal saga over a U.S. bid to have him extradited to face corruption charges, sending the extradition case back to square one.

Firtash faces a U.S. indictment accusing him of a conspiracy to pay bribes in India to mine titanium, which is used in jet engines. He denies any wrongdoing.

He was arrested in Austria in 2014 and then freed on 125 million euros ($136 million) bail, kicking off a still-unresolved legal saga. A Vienna court initially ruled against extradition on the grounds that the indictment was politically motivated.

A higher court in February 2017 rejected that reasoning as “insufficiently substantiated” and ruled that Firtash could be extradited. Austria’s Supreme Court of Justice upheld that ruling in 2019.

The country’s justice minister at the time approved the extradition, but a Vienna court judge ruled it could only take place after a decision on a defense call to reopen the case. Firtash backed that June 2019 motion with “numerous documents, including written witness statements,” Vienna’s upper state court said.

In March 2022, a Vienna court ruled against reopening the case. But the upper state court said Friday that it has now ruled in favor of Firtash and decided to allow reopening extradition proceedings, overturning the 2017 ruling. It pointed to new evidence.

Judges in Vienna will now have to consider anew whether Firtash can be sent to the United States.

In June 2019, a Chicago federal judge rejected a motion to dismiss the indictment against Firtash, who has argued that the U.S. has no jurisdiction over crimes in India. However, the judge ruled that it does, because any scheme would have impacted a Chicago-based company.

American aviation company Boeing, based in Chicago, has said it considered business with Firtash but never followed through. It is not accused of any wrongdoing.


Court upholds judge’s finding that Tesla acquisition of Solar City was fair
Breaking Legal News | 2023/06/06 10:02
Delaware’s Supreme Court has upheld a judge’s decision in favor of Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a lawsuit challenging the electric car maker’s $2.4 billion acquisition of a solar panel company founded by two of his cousins.

The court on Tuesday rejected arguments from a group of Tesla shareholders that a Chancery Court judge erred in finding that Tesla’s deal to acquire SolarCity in 2016 was “entirely fair.” The judge made that determination even while finding that the process by which Tesla’s board of directors negotiated and recommended the deal to shareholders was “far from perfect.”

While noting errors in the trial court’s fair price analysis, and agreeing that the deal process was not “pitch perfect,” the justices said the record is replete with factual findings and credibility determinations indicating that the acquisition was “entirely fair.”

“We are convinced, after a thorough review of the extensive trial record, that the trial court’s decision is supported by the evidence and that the court committed no reversible error in applying the entire fairness test,” Justice Karen Valihura wrote in the court’s 106-page opinion.

Typically, under Delaware’s “business judgment” rule, courts give deference to a corporate board’s decision-making unless there is evidence that directors had conflicts or acted in bad faith. If a plaintiff can overcome the business judgment rule’s presumption because the deal involved a controlling shareholder or because directors might have been conflicted, the board’s action is subject to an “entire fairness” analysis. That shifts the burden to the corporation to show that the deal involved both fair dealing and fair price.

At the time of the acquisition, Musk owned about 22% of Tesla’s common stock and was the largest stockholder of SolarCity, as well as chairman of its board of directors.

The justices concluded that the findings by former Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III, which were not challenged by the shareholders, support the conclusion that the overall deal process was the product of fair dealing. The Supreme Court also said that, while Slights failed to explain why and how he relied on Solar City’s stock price on the day the deal was announced, rather than the lower price on the day the deal closed, his fair price analysis did not amount to reversible error.

“The Court of Chancery, after examining all of the expert testimony and fair price evidence, found that the fair price case was not even close,” Valihiura noted.

An attorney for the shareholders argued in March that the Chancery Court judge put too much emphasis on the price Tesla paid for SolarCity, and not enough on the deal process, which the plaintiffs contend was tainted by the failure to appoint an independent committee to negotiate the deal. He also argued that the judge’s analysis of the deal price was flawed and that shareholders who voted to approve the deal were not properly informed, even though the vote was not required under Delaware law.


Islamic scholar acquitted of rape by Swiss court
Breaking Legal News | 2023/05/24 09:44
A Swiss court on Wednesday acquitted noted Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan on charges of rape and “sexual constraint,” citing lack of material evidence more than a decade after the alleged actions, contradictory witness statements and what resembled love messages to the accused.

The court said it would pay Ramadan’s lawyers’ fees. It was a first victory for the former Oxford scholar with a worldwide reputation who had a brutal fall from grace with similar accusations still pending in France.

Ramadan faces potential trial in France over allegations by several other women that emerged more than five years ago.

Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, was jailed in February 2018 in France and handed preliminary rape charges over two alleged assaults in France, one in 2009 and another in 2012. A third woman filed a rape complaint against him in March. He was released on bail nine months later.

The outspoken scholar has consistently denied any wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit saying the allegations were false.

In the Swiss case, the court noted that it didn’t pass judgment on Ramadan’s sexual practices or his morality. A statement said the plaintiff’s accusations weren’t corroborated by any material elements, including traces of sperm or blood. It also considered the “the numerous internet exchanges” between the Swiss plaintiff and several people implicated in the French case were “of a nature to influence” what she and witnesses told the court.

The court said that messages the plaintiff exchanged with Ramadan immediately after the acts in question and for weeks later appear more like “messages of love and, above all, make no mention” of her allegations during a night at a hotel.


Nigeria court hears opposition’s presidential vote challenge
Breaking Legal News | 2023/05/09 10:03
A Nigerian court on Monday began its hearing on separate suits filed by the opposition to challenge the incumbent party’s victory in the country’s presidential election.

The presidential tribunal at the Court of Appeal in the capital, Abuja, heard the opening statements of lawyers representing opposition parties, which are the challenging the outcome of the February vote won by Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress.

As the court hearing began, armed security personnel blocked major access roads and prevented a handful of journalists and lawyers from entering the facility. Some protesters waved Nigerian flags and displayed placards, alleging that the electoral process was flawed.

“Why I am demonstrating is because of the anger and the pain I have as a Nigerian not allowed to express and enjoy the resources of the land,” said protester James Mike, who accused the Nigerian political class of pilfering the country’s wealth from huge mineral and crude oil resources.

Nigeria’s election commission declared Tinubu the winner of the election in a televised broadcast after he garnered 37% of the votes. But the two main opposition candidates rejected the result, questioning Tinubu’s qualification and alleging that results from the country’s 177,000 polling stations were tampered with.

Analysts and observers said that the voting on Feb. 25 was largely an improvement from Nigeria’s previous elections, but said that delays in uploading results might have given room for the figures to be tampered with.

In separate petitions, both second-place finisher Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and No. 3 finisher Peter Obi of the Labour Party argued that Nigeria’s electoral commission violated the provisions of the law in announcing the results of the election.

Obi has said he has evidence to show he tallied the majority votes in the election while Abubakar has asked the court to disqualify Tinubu, alleging that he has a Guinean passport and therefore wasn’t eligible to enter the presidential contest under the Nigerian Constitution.


Supreme Court skeptical of man who offered adult adoptions
Breaking Legal News | 2023/03/28 14:25
The Supreme Court seemed inclined Monday to rule against a man convicted of violating immigration law for offering adult adoptions he falsely claimed would lead to citizenship.

Attorneys for Helaman Hansen told the justices during approximately 90 minutes of arguments that the law he was convicted of violating was too broad. But the court’s conservative majority in particular seemed willing to side with the government and conclude that it is not.

Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that the law “has been on the books for 70 years” without some of the issues Hansen’s lawyers worried about. He also expressed no sympathy for Hansen himself, who he said was “taking advantage of very vulnerable people.”

“He had every intent in the world to keep these people here to take their money with no prospect they’d ever” actually get citizenship, Gorsuch said.

The case involves a section of federal immigration law that says a person such as Hansen who “encourages or induces” a non-citizen to come to or remain in the United States illegally can be punished by up to five years in prison. That’s increased to up to 10 years if the person doing the encouraging is doing so for their own financial gain.

The federal government says that from 2012 to 2016 Hansen — who lived in Elk Grove, California, near Sacramento — deceived hundreds of non-citizens into believing that he could guarantee them a path to citizenship through adult adoption.

Based on Hansen’s promises, officials say, people either came to or stayed in the United States in violation of the law, even though Hansen knew that the adult adoptions he was arranging would not lead to citizenship. The government says at least 471 people paid him between $550 and $10,000 and that in total he collected more than $1.8 million.

Hansen was ultimately convicted of encouragement charges as well as fraud charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the encouragement charges and another 20 years on the fraud charges. But a federal appeals court ruled that the law on encouragement is overbroad and violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment and overturned just those convictions.

The court’s three liberal justices seemed more concerned about the reach of the law. Justice Elena Kagan asked “what happens to all the cases” where a lawyer, doctor, neighbor, friend or teacher “says to a non-citizen: ‘I really think you should stay.’” Kagan wanted to know whether those people could or would be prosecuted under the law.


Mexican president lashes out at Supreme Court chief justice
Breaking Legal News | 2023/03/01 09:57
Mexico’s president lashed out Wednesday at the chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court, accusing her of promoting rulings favorable to criminal suspects.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s comments opened a new debate over the separation of powers in Mexico, at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the president’s controversial cuts to election agency funding.

López Obrador has already attacked independent regulatory agencies, slammed the judiciary and cut funding for the National Electoral Institute.

The electoral dispute has led the president to feud with the press, demonstrators and the U.S. State Department. Opponents say the electoral cuts threaten Mexico’s democracy, and have appealed them to the Supreme Court.

López Obrador’s comments Wednesday opened a head-on conflict between the administration and Supreme Court Chief Justice Norma Piña, the first woman to hold that post.

The president was angered after a judge issued an injunction striking down an arrest warrant against Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, a former governor of the northern border state of Tamaulipas, who had been accused of corruption.


Ex-Louisiana lawmaker gets 22-month sentence for wire fraud
Breaking Legal News | 2023/01/11 16:07
Former Louisiana Democratic Party leader Karen Carter Peterson, who resigned from the state Senate last year year citing depression and a gambling addiction — and later pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud — was sentenced on Wednesday to 22 months in prison.

Peterson, who served in the Louisiana Legislature for more than 22 years, admitted in August to taking more than $140,000 in funds from her reelection campaign and from the state Democratic Party. The ex-lawmaker spent a “substantial amount” of that money on casino gambling, according to court documents.

Although the felony charge of federal wire fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance sentenced Peterson to significantly less, The Advocate reported.

“People trusted me and I breached that trust,” Peterson said in court, WDSU-TV reported.

At the sentencing, Peterson cried at the podium and repented for her criminal wrongdoing — apologizing to her constituents, family and friends.

Ahead of the sentencing, Peterson’s lawyers implored U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance to consider an alternative to prison — such as probation or home confinement.

They said her gambling addiction resulted in “diminished mental capacity,” which can qualify a defendant for a reduced sentence, according to court filings obtained by The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. In addition, they pointed to her Christian faith, her acceptance of responsibility for the crimes and her participation in Gamblers Anonymous.


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