A decision of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruling shareholders of a company damaged by bribery are “corruption victims,” and its order affirming $135 million in damages establish an important precedent. The decision and order were handed down in a case arising from the prosecution of OZ Africa Management for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. OZ, a subsidiary of a U.S. hedge fund, had pled guilty to participating in a bribery scheme Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler engineered to gain control of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mineral resources. As the case was about to close, shareholders in Africo, a Canadian company whose mining rights had lost value thanks to the bribery, filed a claim for damages under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, a statute requiring criminal defendants to compensate victims of their crimes.
OZ and the prosecutors in the case both opposed the shareholders’ claim. Under the act, those claiming they were injured by a criminal offense must show they were “directly and proximately harmed” by it. Several events occurred between OZ’s bribes and the injury Africo’s shareholders sustained that blurred the causal link between the two. Both the government and OZ asserted that these intervening events made the shareholders at best indirect victims of corruption. And in any event the injuries were so far removed from the bribery that it could not be said the bribery proximately caused them. Finally, OZ argued the damage the shareholders suffered, loss of the chance to develop the mine, could not be readily quantified, making any award “speculative” and “hypothetical.”
The difficulty in showing the harm from corruption is “direct” and “proximately” caused, and the challenge of precisely calculating the damage are not just hurdles to those seeking compensation for corruption under American law. They are commonly cited as reasons why, though virtually all nations permit corruption victims to sue for damages in accordance with article 35 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (here), virtually no one has (here, here [21ff], and here). While the court in OZ Africa Management was only construing a U.S. law, its reasoning offers courts in other jurisdictions precedent for awarding damages when their citizens are injured by corruption.Continue reading