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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Back issues
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FARC Victims May Push to Collect $318M Award

(CN) - Victims of a Colombian terrorist kidnapping may continue to try to collect a $318 million judgment against companies that allegedly helped their abductors launder money, the 11th Circuit ruled.

Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Thomas Janis were captured by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), after the group shot down their plane in 2003.

Janis was later executed by his captors, and the other three were held for more than five years, before eventually being rescued.

The three survivors and Janis' family members sued FARC under the Antiterrorism Act. After representatives of the group failed to show up in court, the plaintiffs were awarded a default judgment of $318 million in June 2010.

Enforcing the judgment has been difficult though, because FARC's assets in the U.S. are either frozen or concealed.

A Florida district court found that FARC assets were blocked, but the plaintiffs would be allowed to pursue collection efforts.

Claimants appealed the judgment, saying they weren't served with writs of garnishment, were wrongly designated as FARC agencies, and that the judgments should be set aside.

Last week, the 11th Circuit largely affirmed the district court's ruling, but did make an exception where the Caymanian corporation Brunello, Ltd. was concerned.

"Initially, the district court incorrectly concluded that no process was due to the owners of the property here, none of whom could be deemed to be on notice of the underlying proceedings against FARC," U.S. Circuit Judge Charles Wilson wrote for the three-judge panel. "Ultimately, though, claimants bear their share of the blame for either sitting on their rights to challenge the allegations against them or simply failing to rebut the charges. Therefore, with the exception of the turnover judgment against Brunello's account, we affirm the district court."

The district court entered a turnover judgment against Merrill Lynch, where Brunello held assets, but Brunello appealed, claiming that a "nunc pro tunc" order, typically used to correct inaccuracies, was entered improperly because it substituted Merrill Lynch with Bank of America.

Bank of America initially claimed it was indebted to Brunello but then flip-flopped and said Merrill Lynch, a Bank of America Corporation subsidiary, was the holder of Brunello's account.

"[Brunello] uniquely asserts that the district court improperly related back, nunc pro tunc, the writ of garnishment," Wilson wrote. "Because we agree with Brunello on that point, we reverse the turnover judgment and remand to the district court with instructions to quash the underlying writ of garnishment and return any turned over funds."

The appeals court upheld collections against other claimants in the case.

The 11th Circuit also denied the claimants' request for a new judge because its remand instructions "give the district court little discretion," the ruling states.

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