HOUSTON (CN) – El Paso Corp., accused of paying bribes to Saddam Hussein that funded terrorist attacks on Americans, could not persuade a federal judge to re-examine the lawsuit’s merits.
El Paso Corp. was formerly owned by millionaire Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt, 90, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to paying Iraq for oil in violation of the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food Program. He was sentenced to one year at a minimum security federal prison in Beaumont.
The UN instituted the program in 1995 to work around international sanctions against Hussein’s regime, and supply food and medicine to the Iraqi people. Wyatt and El Paso Energy Corp., which later shortened its name to El Paso Corp., were sued by 193 plaintiffs in January 2009 on allegations they paid $5.5 million in laundered bribes and kickbacks to Saddam’s regime for $420 million worth of oil.
Making their case under the Anti-Terrorism Act, the U.S. citizen plaintiffs claim they were injured or their relatives were killed by three terrorist attacks in Israel in the early 2000s, and that Wyatt and El Paso’s bribes funded the attacks .
The federal lawsuit was filed in Washington, D.C., then transferred to Houston in December 2009.
It survived defendants’ dismissal motion when U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal did not buy their claim there was insufficient evidence to prove they knew Hussein was using the kickbacks to fund terrorism targeting Americans.
The case was subsequently transferred to U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, also of Houston.
Miller issued an order Wednesday denying El Paso’s motion to have Rosenthal’s ruling certified for interlocutory appeal.
Also known as an interim appeal, an interlocutory appeal challenges a trial court’s ruling before all claims are resolved in a case.
In its motion, El Paso questioned if plaintiffs had alleged its actions caused their injuries under the proper Anti-Terrorism Act standard.
Noting that to qualify for an interlocutory appeal “the issues presented must involve questions of law – not fact,” Miller shot down El Paso’s motion.
“El Paso has attempted to recast fact-bound issues as controlling questions of law. Whether El Paso has engaged in an act of international terrorism and whether plaintiffs can show that their injuries were caused by El Paso’s conduct are factual issues to be determined based on the evidence in this case,” Miller wrote.
“Because El Paso seeks review of the sufficiency of the facts alleged and the application of the legal standard to those facts, interlocutory review is inappropriate,” he added in the 9-page order.
Kinder Morgan bought El Paso Corp. for $21.1 billion in cash and stock in October 2011.
El Paso’s attorney Anne Rodgers, with Norton Rose Fulbright, of Houston was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon.
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