“Mastros set free in France, but U.S. may still go after them”

June 6, 2013

The Seattle Times on June 5, 2013 released the following:

“Appeals court says the 88-year-old developer and his wife won’t be extradited to the U.S., where they are charged with bankruptcy fraud.

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times business reporter

Fugitive Seattle businessman Michael R. Mastro may well live out the rest of his life as a free man in the foothills of the French Alps.

A French appellate court Wednesday denied on humanitarian grounds the U.S. Department of Justice’s request to extradite Mastro and his wife, Linda, said Jim Frush, a Seattle attorney who represents the 88-year-old former real-estate magnate at the center of one of Western Washington’s biggest bankruptcies.

“I spoke with Mike, who was understandably very happy and relieved and indicated to me that he and Linda were about to leave for dinner,” he said.

The Mastros had been under electronic monitoring and restricted to their apartment after 6:30 at night as part of an earlier French order.

A federal grand jury indicted the Mastros on charges of bankruptcy fraud in August 2011, two months after the couple disappeared from sight.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle declined to comment Wednesday on the French court’s ruling, saying only that it was examining its options, including a possible appeal.

It’s likely the Justice Department filed a “red notice” with Interpol, a global law-enforcement agency, that puts 190 countries on notice of the outstanding arrest warrant for the couple, said Douglas McNabb, an international criminal-defense lawyer in Washington, D.C.

If the Mastros try to leave France for any other country, they could be held there and possibly extradited to the United States to face the criminal charges, McNabb said.

But if the French court’s ruling isn’t appealed and the Mastros stay put in France, “the ballgame is over with,” he said.

The ruling of the appeals court in Chambéry can be appealed to the Council of State, France’s highest judicial body and roughly equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Juliet Sorensen, a law professor at Northwestern University who teaches international criminal law.

A treaty signed by the two nations in 1996 requires each to honor a request to extradite persons charged with certain offenses that are punishable in both countries.

But there are exceptions, including one that allows either nation to deny extradition if surrendering the person “might entail exceptionally serious consequences related to age or health,” according to the treaty.

The French appellate court ruled that extraditing the Mastros could have such consequences, and wasn’t persuaded by the Justice Department’s arguments to the contrary, Frush said.

Developer’s downfall

Mastro’s four-decade career as a prolific developer ended in a spectacular crash in 2009 when three banks forced him into bankruptcy court.

Mastro told the court he had nearly $587 million in liabilities, including more than $100 million he owed to individual investors and local groups such as the Italian Club of Seattle.

Against those liabilities, Mastro reported assets of $249 million, most of it debt others owed him.

State regulators also charged him with breaking the law by making false statements to “Friends & Family” investors and selling unregistered securities, charges that Mastro denied.

Mastro and his wife disappeared suddenly in June 2011 after they ignored a bankruptcy judge’s order to hand over two giant diamond rings worth more than $1.4 million.

They officially became fugitives a month later when warrants were signed for their arrest. But those warrants were for contempt of court, a civil violation, and experts said it would be difficult to extradite the Mastros without a criminal charge.

Then in August 2011, the U.S. Attorneys Office filed a sealed criminal complaint against the Mastros, charging them with bankruptcy fraud.

The complaint was made public last October after the Mastros were arrested near Lake Annecy, in the French Alps, where they had rented a succession of apartments.

The next month, a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment containing 43 counts for bankruptcy fraud and money laundering.

The diamond rings, along with nearly 300 other pieces of jewelry, were seized in France in October after the Mastros were apprehended.

The collection is worth more than $3 million, according to the court-appointed trustee in Mastro’s bankruptcy case, James Rigby, who has recovered only a fraction of the money owed to creditors. The Mastros’ attorneys are fighting in court to stop the FBI from transferring some jewelry to the trustee.

The Mastros spent seven weeks in a French jail before a court placed them on supervised release with electronic monitoring pending an extradition proceeding.

Health concerns

In February, the three judges of the Court of Appeal in Chambéry ruled that the Mastros had been charged with offenses that were subject to extradition, but noted that lengthy incarceration likely would have serious consequences on their health.

The court’s 19-page ruling in February mentioned Mastro’s age and a serious head injury he suffered in a fall in Palm Desert, Calif., two years ago. The court also mentioned the “psychological frailty” of Linda Mastro, who is in her 60s, revealing that she attempted suicide shortly after the couple was arrested in France.

At a hearing in late May, the Justice Department’s representative told the French court that if the Mastros were extradited and convicted in the United States, they would not ask for more than two years in prison, Frush said Wednesday, citing information he received from Thomas Terrier, the Mastros’ attorney in France. Moreover, U.S. officials told the court the federal Bureau of Prisons was equipped to manage the Mastros’ health concerns, Frush said.

Terrier could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sorensen, the Northwestern University law professor, said the French government had discretion to extradite the Mastros despite the exception in the treaty, and said the Council of State had heard extradition appeals from the United States in the past.

Investor reaction

News of the French court’s ruling dismayed Kirkland resident Barry Bloch, one of the “Friends & Family” investors who loaned the developer money in return for pledges of interest payments.

“What a joke,” Bloch said after hearing from a reporter of the ruling.

Bloch and his wife, Teresa, loaned Mastro money and knew him for about four years before the developer’s fortunes unraveled.

“It didn’t bankrupt us, but it’s a sizable amount of money, and it’s disgusting that he isn’t brought to justice,” said Barry Bloch, 68.

He recalled an exchange with the developer at Mastro’s Seattle office on Rainier Avenue South as the real-estate market was imploding, but before the banks forced Mastro into bankruptcy court.

“I asked him how he sleeps at night, and he said, ‘I sleep like a baby.’ That spoke volumes,” Bloch said.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
International Extradition Lawyers Videos:

International Extradition – When the FBI Seeks Extradition

International Extradition – Wire Transfer – Email – Telephone Call

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We previously discussed the extradition treaty between the United States and France here.

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To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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Libya says Mauritania agrees Senussi extradition

March 20, 2012

Reuters on March 20, 2012 released the following:

“By Laurent Prieur and Hadeel al Shachi

(Reuters) – Mauritania has agreed that Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, arrested in Nouakchott last week, can be extradited to Libya, Libya’s deputy prime minister said.

The decision, if implemented, sets Libya on a collision course with France and the international war crimes court in The Hague, which also want Senussi, Gaddafi’s right-hand man before the Libyan dictator’s overthrow and death in a popular revolt last year.

“I have met the President of Mauritania and he agreed to the extradition of Senussi to Libya,” Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour wrote on Twitter on Tuesday in a comment conformed as official by a Libyan government representative.

Senussi, whose whereabouts had been unclear for months, was arrested at Mauritania’s Nouakchott airport late on Friday when he stepped off a flight from Morocco.

A senior Libyan delegation to Mauritania feted President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz for his “brave stance” in arresting Senussi and during talks at his presidency stressed that Senussi should be extradited to Libya.

“We greatly appreciate the position of the president who promised us that good will come of this matter,” said a statement attributed to Shagour earlier and issued by Mauritania’s official news agency AMI.

France and the International Criminal Court also want Senussi. The ICC has indicted him for crimes against humanity, while he is also alleged to have had a role in the 1989 bombing of an airliner in which 54 French nationals died.

“We want Senussi to be extradited to France. We feel we owe it to the victims’ families and to justice,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said of a step that would allow France to confirm the life sentence already handed down to Senussi in absentia by a French court.

LOCKERBIE BOMBING

Separately, diplomatic sources said the United States – which on Monday confirmed it had contacts with Mauritania over Senussi – had requested access to him before any transfer.

“The Americans put in a request to Mauritanian authorities yesterday (Monday) morning to be able to meet Senussi while he is still in Mauritania, said one diplomatic source. A second diplomat also confirmed the request had been made.

No comment was immediately available either from the Mauritanian or U.S. governments.

Senussi’s name has been linked to the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland of a Pan Am jet that killed 270 people. A State Department spokeswoman said on Monday the United States had long expressed an interest in talking to him about it.

Human rights groups doubt Senussi, 62, will have a fair trial in Libya and have called for his transfer to the ICC.

Amnesty International described the Libyan judicial system as “paralyzed”, noting it had not successfully investigated the death of prisoners in rebel detention or high-profile cases like the death of former military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis.

“The Libyan judiciary has done nothing. It has held no one accountable and has not investigated a single case yet,” Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera told Reuters.

However, Deputy Justice Minister Khalifa Faraj Ashour told Reuters in Tripoli the former intelligence chief would be tried fairly in his home country.

“Security is good, the courts are working fine in almost all of the country,” he said. “Even if there is a security breach once in a while, we can deal with it.”

“HIDDEN MONEY”

Ashour said it was too early to discuss what charges Senussi could face in Libya. Interpol has issued a Red Notice for him at Libya’s request for fraud offences including embezzling public funds and misuse of power for personal benefit.

“In general, we can say one of the crimes is financial corruption. He knows a lot about hidden money,” Ashour said.

Senussi is also suspected of a key role in the killing of more than 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in 1996. It was the arrest of a lawyer for victims’ relatives that sparked Libya’s Arab Spring revolt in February last year.

“Senussi being handed over to Libya and tried here would be a great support for the Libyan revolution and the country’s courts,” Ashour said. “You have to realize that he committed many other crimes in Libya before the revolution.”

According to Mauritanian security sources, Senussi, who for decades was hated and feared by many ordinary Libyans, is being held in the main police training school in Nouakchott.

The sources said the facility – which is surrounded by a high wall blocking all view from outside – was the only one which could keep Senussi in sufficient security while affording him a degree of comfort.

According to two sources, a team of military doctors including Aziz’s personal medic performed a medical check on Senussi on Sunday while he was still being held at a residence in the grounds of Nouakchott’s international conference centre.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
International Extradition Lawyers Videos:

International Extradition – When the FBI Seeks Extradition

International Extradition – Wire Transfer – Email – Telephone Call

————————————————————–

To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.