Top Justice Department officials are considering whether to abandon a high-profile foreign bribery case in Washington following two unsuccessful trials that included three acquittals.
A DOJ Criminal Division trial attorney, Joey Lipton, said at a hearing today in Washington that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. are examining the continued viability of the case.
Lipton told U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, who presided over the two earlier trials, that the Justice Department will have a decision by Feb. 21. He asked Leon to hit the “pause button” on the prosecution.
Leon pushed back the start of the next trial in the series to early March. But the judge told the attorneys to keep moving forward—responding to pending motions, for instance—in the event the government decides to press forward with the remaining cases.
Prosecutors in January 2010 filed charges against 22 executives and employees in the military and law enforcement equipment industry, accusing the defendants of participating in a conspiracy to bribe the defense minister of Gabon.
The $15 million equipment deal was a ruse, part of an undercover sting that used FBI agents and an informant as participants in the business arrangement. Prosecutors built the case around secretly recorded audio and video. The defendants were joined in groups for trial.
Defense lawyers for the executives charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have argued there was no conspiracy and that the deal on its face appeared legitimate. Attorneys have hammered government witnesses at trial about the Justice Department’s effort to conceal the illegality of the business transaction.
The first trial last summer ended in a hung jury. The Justice Department didn’t fare any better the second time around. The judge threw out the overarching conspiracy charge before the jury began deliberating. The jury acquitted two defendants. Leon ruled in favor of a third man.
In court today, several defense attorneys praised the Justice Department's review of the remaining cases, which are set for trial in the coming weeks and months in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Steptoe & Johnson litigation partner Reid Weingarten, a defense attorney involved in the case, called the DOJ examination “laudable” and said he strongly encourages prosecutors not to proceed with any additional trials.