BROOKLYN (CN) – A Belarusian oil company controlled by President Alexander Lukashenka conspired with the KGB to kidnap two U.S. citizens, a freelance reporter and a New York attorney, in a failed attempt to influence U.S. foreign policy, the former hostages claim in court.
Vladlena Funk, the reporter, and attorney Emanuel Zeltser sued Belneftekhim aka Belneftekhim Concern and Belneftekhim USA, in Kings County Supreme Court.
“This action relates to the widely reported kidnapping, unlawful detention and torture of American citizens, Emanuel Zeltser and Vladena Funk, by the Belarusian KGB at the instigation of the defendants and at the direction of Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenka, in a failed criminal effort designed by the defendants and the Byelorussian government to force hand of the United States Government to lift economic sanctions imposed against the defendants,” the complaint begins.
The plaintiffs claim that KGB agents abducted them on March 10, 2008 during a meeting with an opponent of Zeltser’s clients. They say Belarus released them after more than a year under intense U.S. and media pressure.
“The sadistic acts of violence committed by the KGB with active participation of the defendants against Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk shock the conscience, grossly deviate from acceptable norms of human behavior, and violate the law of nations and international law of human rights,” the complaint states. “The KGB agents drugged and abducted Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk from a restaurant in London, transported them to a Belarusian KGB detention facility against their will, savagely beat them repeatedly, starved them, deprived them of sleep, denied them access to life-sustaining medications and medical treatment, and held them hostage on bogus charges of ‘spying’ – despite having been transported to Belarus against their will.”
The plaintiffs claim the oil company conspired in their abduction.
“Belneftekhim is tightly controlled by illegally elected president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka and members of his clique,” the complaint states. “Lukashenka’s control over Belneftekhim Belarus and Belneftekhim USA is the basis for the designation of Belneftekhim Belarus and Belneftekhim USA as persons ‘who undermine the Belarusian democratic processes or engage in political repression or public corruption.'”
The company’s U.S. office makes it subject to the court’s jurisdiction, according to the complaint.
“The defendants acted in concert with the Byelorussian KGB in their efforts to compel the U.S. to lift sanctions in exchange for the release of Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk,” the complaint states. “Instead, the kidnapping, systematic torture, and illegal detention of Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk as hostages resulted in worldwide outrage, massive international publicity, and threats of increased sanctions from senior-ranking Members of Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other international leaders. The increased pressure forced Lukashenka to release Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk after holding both in captivity for 16 months and 12 months respectively.”
They seek $20 million each in compensatory damages and $50 million each in punitive damages for assault, emotional distress, false imprisonment, tortious interference, conversion and prima facie tort.
They are represented by Zeltser, with Sternik & Zeltser.