Former Congolese Official Sues Citigroup

MANHATTAN (CN) – Citigroup acted “at the beck and call of a government agency with a vendetta” by closing denying the former minister of science for the Democratic Republic of Congo access to accounts, the man claims in Federal Court. Sylvanus Mushi Bonane says his law firm’s account and the account of Societe d’Assurance de l’Est contained more than $945,000, but they could not pay their staff without access to the funds, and one to three employees died because they could not afford food or medical treatment.

     Bonane was fired as minister of scientific research for abuse of power, according to a Reuters article from 2007.
     “A presidential decree said Sylvanus Mushi Bonane was sacked because he acted improperly during a court battle between a private company he owns [Estagri] and Congo’s state customs revenue collection office, known as OFIDA,” Reuters reported.
But in his complaint, Bonane claims he was a whistleblower who “was forced to resign under pressure and political intrigue.” He claims he advocated for mining rights for the Congolese people and would not “bend to the will of the mining interests.”
     “Mr. Bonane eventually fled his own country because of death threats and various attacks on his legal practice and livelihood,” according to the complaint. “Sadly, it appears that Citigroup participated in the political conspiracy to drive Mr. Bonane out of business and out of his country so that he would not continue to act in opposition to the government.”
     Bonane says that in 2001 he opened accounts with Delaware-based Citigroup. He claims the bank emptied and restricted the accounts under an attachment order for a judgment in July 2007.
     Though the accounts held more than $945,000, Citigroup froze them with only a few hundred dollars left and debited $50 from Bonane’s account for a year’s worth of “services rendered,” according to the complaint.
     Bonane says he represented Estagri in a case against the Offices des Douanes et Accises, or OFIDA. He claims that the “successful suit against OFIDA proved to be his political undoing.”
     The agency won on appeal, RC 96.136, recouping the judgment it had been forced to pay, and Citigroup was ordered to turn over more than 289 million Congolese Francs plus $250,000 in damages, according to the complaint.
     Bonane says neither he nor the insurance company were a party to the action, nor bound to the judgment, but Citigroup debited and froze their accounts.
     “The premature attachment by defendant was issued solely based on a similarity of shareholders in Assurest and Estagri,” according to the complaint. “Plaintiff Bonane’s only relationship to judgment RC 96.136 was as attorney of Estagri.”
     Bonane says a process server admitted in an official report “that he had issued an attachment on the plaintiffs’ accounts in error.” Bonane claims that he won a judgment in 2008 that the judge who granted the appeal committed fraud.
     “According to the judgment of the Supreme Court, defendant wrongfully reopened both accounts (of Assurest and Bonane), in violation of the law, without authorization from the owners,” according to the complaint. (Parentheses in original.)
     Bonane says Citigroup was supposed to reactivate his account and pay him $341,300, but it did not. In 2009, Citigroup agreed to pay the Ministry of Justice $2 million Congolese Francs to settle a criminal investigation, according to the complaint.
     “Plaintiffs bring this action in the belief that in America, no one is above the law, and that, huge international corporations (even a financial institution ‘too big to fail’ like the defendant) must nevertheless be held to account for their actions and compelled to honor their agreements to ordinary people,” according to the complaint. (Parentheses in original.)
     Without access to his account, Bonane says, he could not afford legal research subscriptions or payroll, and the attorneys at his firm left, taking their clients with them.
     “The loss of nearly the entire workforce for the firm and the firm’s clients led to the collapse of the firm that Mr. Bonane had worked his life to build,” according to the complaint. “Bonane’s employees were forced to take their children out of school for lack of payment, at least one employee died due to lack of medical insurance previously paid by Bonane, and others were evicted from their homes because they could not pay rent.”
     The plaintiffs seek more than $6 million, including restoration of their accounts, lost profits and punitive damages. They are represented by Marc Koplik with Henderson & Koplik.

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