A federal judge dismissed with prejudice today a closely watched criminal case against international pharmaceuticals businessman Zhenli Ye Gon, who had been accused of participating in an international drug trafficking conspiracy.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed to dismiss the case based on a motion by Paul O'Brien, chief of the Justice Department’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section. O'Brien said that because Ye Gon faces prosecution in Mexico where he is charged with organized crime and firearm and drug violations, the U.S. government did not plan to pursue its case against him.
"We fully expect the defendant to be extradited and deported to Mexico. They have a strong interest in this case, therefore we will defer to the Mexican government," O'Brien said at the hearing today. The government in June moved to dismiss the Ye Gon case without prejudice, saying that if Mexico is unable or unwilling to prosecute then the Justice Department would resume prosecution in Washington.
Ye Gon, a native of China who moved to Mexico in 1990, allegedly made a fortune importing the ingredients necessary to make methamphetamine from China and then selling them to producers in Mexico on the black market.
At the time of his arrest in 2007, authorities found $207 million—most of it in U.S. dollars—in Ye Gon’s mansion in Mexico. Ye Gon was arrested in Maryland in 2007. In court papers, he said he sought to present himself to the justice system in the United States, where he believed he could get a fair shot at proving he is not guilty of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy.
What had at first been a case that was heralded as a collaborative feat by the governments of Mexico and the United States had become something of a black eye for the Justice Department.
Two years after indicting Ye Gon on a single conspiracy count, prosecutors admitted they didn't have much of a case. A key witness recanted. Another refused to cooperate. A judge in Mexico turned down American prosecutors' access to certain evidence. China presented "stumbling blocks" when the Justice Department wanted to depose witnesses there. And Sullivan accused prosecutors of hiding critical information from the defense team for nearly a year.
In today's hearing, O'Brien acknowledged the problems with the U.S. case against Ye Gon, but he adamantly denied any prosecutorial misconduct.
"We feel confident that we didn't violate our disclosure obligations in this case," O'Brien said.
The Ye Gon case marks the second time in recent months the Justice Department has asked Sullivan to drop a case amid allegations of mishandling evidence. In April, the Justice Department asked that the public corruption guilty verdict against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) be thrown out because prosecutors had failed to turn over key evidence to the defense.
Sullivan said the prosecution's motion to dismiss the Ye Gon case with prejudice made any discussion of misconduct moot.
"Conclusion means conclusion. All matters in the case are resolved. I applaud the government's position for being in line with the administration of justice," Sullivan said. He added, "I don't usually have a lot of positives to report to to Mr. [Eric] Holder, but you can tell him I am delighted with his decision."
Ye Gon’s lawyers, Manuel Retureta of Washington’s Retureta & Wassem, and A. Eduardo Balarezo, a Washington-based solo practitioner said they were pleased with the Sullivan's ruling but added that the judge left some issues unaddressed.
“We are very pleased with the court’s final ruling," Balarezo said. "We still believe that there are issues that were not resolved, such as the Brady violations. However, in the interests of our client, the end result is the same,” he said.
Ye Gon’s lawyers are planning to fight extradition, saying he cannot get a fair trial in Mexico. Court papers show Ye Gon is seeking asylum in the United States. An extradition hearing is scheduled for Sept. 17 in federal district court in Washington. He will remain in custody though
Reporter Mike Scarcella contributed to this article.