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Legal news from Monday, December 26, 2011




Iraq VP refuses to return to Baghdad to stand trial
Rebecca DiLeonardo on December 26, 2011 4:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] Vice president of Iraq Tareq al-Hashemi [JURIST news archive] said Sunday that he will not return to Baghdad to stand trial on charges of inciting violence in the country. Al-Hashemi denies the charges [Al Jazeera video] and has moved to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq to avoid appearing at trial, which he claims will be biased against him. Al-Hashemi's statement comes in response to a warrant issued last week for his arrest [Reuters report] by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic]. Al-Maliki alleges that Al-Hashemi and his security forces carried out secret assassinations of political enemies. On Friday, protesters took to the streets in support of Hashemi [Al Arabiya report], many alleging that the charges against him are politically motivated. The sectarian violence was ignited just days after the last US troops left Iraq, and threatens to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

On Sunday US Vice President Joe Biden [official website] spoke with Maliki [AP report], expressing his condolences for last week's violence and discussing the political climate. The US ended it's 9-year Iraq War [JURIST feature] earlier this month when the government officially declared the war at an end and withdrew its remaining troops from the country. The US also handed over the last detainee [JURIST report] in Iraq, Ali Mussa Daqduq, to Iraqi authorities as part of the end of the war. US President Barack Obama [official website] had considered trying Daqduq on US soil [JURIST report], but was unable to come to an agreement with Iraqi officials and so transferred Daqduq to Iraq officials. Sectarian conflict arose almost immediately following the withdrawal of US troops, culminating in the last week's violence.




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Dutch appeals court upholds fine on oil trading company
Ashley Hileman on December 26, 2011 3:47 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Amsterdam Appeals Court on Friday upheld a 1 million euro (USD $1.3 million) fine against oil trading company Trafigura [corporate website] for shipping hazardous waste to the Netherlands and illegally exporting the waste to the Ivory Coast in 2006. The company chartered a ship, the Probo Koala, to deliver and unload acidic and corrosive fuel refining waste in the Netherlands, but had it pumped back onto the ship due to processing costs. The court acquitted Trafigura of one count of forgery related to the events in 2006, but refused to overturn the company's convictions for illegally exporting waste [WSJ report]. The court also rejected an appeal by Dutch prosecutors to increase the amount of the fine. It was alleged that the waste caused 15 deaths and thousands of individuals to become ill near the Ivory Coast. Human rights group Amnesty International [advocacy website], praised [press release] the court's decision, calling it "an important step towards justice" for those affected.

Trafigura was appealing the July 2010 decision [JURIST report] of the Amsterdam District Court, which originally handed down the fine after finding the company guilty of the charges against it. Lawyers for the company believed Judge Frans Bauduin applied the incorrect treaty [AP report] in finding that exporting the waste to Ivory Coast was illegal, arguing that the Marine Pollution Treaty [MARPOL 73/78 text] applied, under which such exportation was legal. Trafigura paid 152 million euros (USD $196.4 million) to Ivory Coast in 2007 to assist with clean-up efforts and settled a civil suit filed in the UK in 2009 by agreeing to compensate 30,000 Abidjan residents made ill by the waste a total of $1,500 each. The Amsterdam court also found the captain of the Probo Koala guilty of co-delivering the hazardous waste and forgery related to concealing its nature. He was sentenced to a five-month suspended prison term. Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed was also found guilty of leading the harmful delivery and was sentenced to a 6-month suspended sentence and a fine of 25,000 euros (USD $32,300).




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China court sentences dissident to 10 years in prison
Ashley Hileman on December 26, 2011 3:16 PM ET

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[JURIST] A Chinese court on Sunday sentenced political activist Chen Xi to 10 years in prison for inciting subversion. The charges against Chen, 57, stemmed from more than 30 political essays [Guardian report] that he had published online. He was detained late last month after he helped to campaign for independent candidates running in the upcoming elections. Chen has been politically active for decades and has been jailed numerous times as a result. In 1989, he was jailed for supporting student protests, and in 1995, he received another prison sentence of 10 years. The judge who ruled on Chen's case after a short trial cited Chen's repeated offenses as one reason behind the most recent lengthy jail sentence. Chen maintains his innocence but has no plans to appeal the ruling. His sentence is one of the longest terms ever handed down for inciting subversion in China. Two longer sentences for subversion convictions belong to Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who has been serving an 11-year sentence [JURIST report] since 2009, and Liu Xianbin, who was jailed for 10 years in March.

Chen is the second dissident in four days to be sentenced in the ongoing government crackdown on dissidents, rights activists and protest organizers. Last week, a Chinese court sentenced [JURIST report] human rights advocate Chen Wei, who is unrelated to Chen Xi, to nine years in prison. Chen Wei, 42, was sentenced after a two-hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which he published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. Chen was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun [website, in Chinese] reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February. The vast majority of those detained have been released without charges or on bail, but officials apparently wanted to make an example of Chen, and China's party-run courts rarely find in favor of defendants in trials for political charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] called the sentence unacceptable and urged Chinese authorities to release Chen immediately [press release].




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DOJ finds online non-sports gambling lawful
Matthew Pomy on December 26, 2011 10:47 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] clarified its stance on online gambling in a memorandum opinion [text, PDF] released Friday holding online non-sports related gambling that crosses state or international borders is not covered by the Wire Act of 1961 [text]. The opinion dealt with the online, out-of-state sale of lottery tickets in Illinois and New York, but could open the door for online gambling as a whole. Specifically, the opinion suggests that the Wire Act was only meant to regulate sporting events instead of all online gambling. The opinion centers around the interpretation of one section of the Wire Act which states: "Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest...shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." The DOJ limited its interpretation of the law:
Given that the Wire Act does not reach interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a 'sporting event or contest' and that the state-run lotteries proposed by New York and Illinois do not involve sporting events or contests, we conclude that the Wire Act does not prohibit the lotteries described in these proposals.
The opinion shifts the administration's stance in a way that could allow non-sports related interstate online gambling under federal law. The DOJ's opinion ends by saying its stance needs to be reconciled with existing federal legislation.

The Wire Act is not the only law affecting online gambling. In November, New Jersey passed Public Question 1 [JURIST report] by a 65 percent margin, amending the New Jersey constitution [text] to legalize sports gambling. The Washington Supreme Court [official website] ruled last year that a state ban on online gambling [JURIST report] is constitutional. That month, the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] delivered three judgments striking down gambling restrictions [JURIST report] in Germany because the regulations were not designed to protect public interest. The ECJ upheld a Swedish law restricting Internet gambling [JURIST report]. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) [HR 4411 summary] bans banks and financial institutions from intentionally accepting payments from credit cards, checks, or electronic fund transfers related to unlawful Internet bets. This act was passed by George W. Bush in 2006, but enforcement of the bill was delayed [JURIST reports] by the Obama Administration in 2009.




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