Peter D. Hardy & Priya Roy, 15 May 2017
On the eve of trial this past Friday, the government announced an agreement to settle, subject to court approval, a major civil forfeiture action in the Southern District of New York. In the case, United States v. Prevezon Holdings, Ltd. et al., the government alleged an elaborate scheme involving money laundering and other offenses committed in Russia, Cyprus, and Manhattan. The case gained some notoriety in the press due to lurid allegations of the suspicious death while in pretrial detention in Moscow of a Russian lawyer who had uncovered the tax refund fraud scheme, and the alleged defenestration earlier this year of a lawyer working for the decedent’s family. Although the civil forfeiture complaint filed in 2013 sought to forfeit at least $230 million worth of assets, the parties settled for approximately $5.9 million. In the wake of this settlement, both the defense and the government now appear to be claiming victory.
This post will analyze an opinion issued by the court in this case last week, prior to the settlement, denying summary judgment to the defense. The legal rulings contained therein are perhaps not as suitable for a Hollywood-style thriller as some of the content of the government’s press releases and pleadings, but nonetheless represent important issues in the field of money laundering and forfeiture. Primarily, we analyze an increasingly common and key question: when can U.S. law apply to conduct occurring primarily overseas? This question has broad implications for federal criminal law enforcement in general, including for RICO and tax fraud prosecutions, as well as for potential civil lawsuits brought by shareholders or other plaintiffs.