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Funding Foreign Terror May Cost Oil Company

(CN) - Three Americans who spent over five years as hostages in Colombia can sue the U.S. subsidiaries of a Chinese company that allegedly paid off the terrorist hostage-takers so they could work peacefully, a federal judge ruled.

In 2003, Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howell were civilians conducting an aerial narcotics surveillance mission over Colombia when the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) shot down their plane and held them as hostages in the jungle for five years. The U.S. secretary of state designated FARC as a terrorist organization in 1997, and the group has also been identified as a major player in the Colombian drug trade..

While the three men lived as hostages in 2005, the Colombian government awarded an energy contract to the China-based BGP Inc., which operates two subsidiaries in Texas and Delaware. In exchange for the freedom to conduct oil-exploration activities without fear of terrorist attacks, BGP met with the FARC secretariat and paid the group a substantial amount of money- at least several hundred thousand dollars.

Since the company gave the terrorists' material support, the former hostages say they are civilly liable under the Antiterrorism Act.

BGP filed for a motion to dismiss, claiming lack of standing, failure to state a claim, and lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction.

"Plaintiffs allege the necessary chain of causation to support standing," Judge James Moody wrote in the 23-page ruling. "Defendant's payment and provision of other support to the FARC is alleged to have directly caused Plaintiffs' alleged injuries. The facts alleged by Plaintiffs sufficiently demonstrate the requisite causal connection for standing purposes."

Moody added that "intent to further terrorist activities" is not a requirement of the Antiterrorism Act. Supreme Court precedent has established that knowledge alone that an organization "was a terrorist organization or engaged in terrorist activities" can establish personal guilt, according to the ruling.

Though the plaintiffs certainly have subject-matter jurisdiction over the BGP's U.S. subsidiaries, they must conduct further discovery to prove that they have personal jurisdiction and establish an alter-ego theory that would impute liability to the Chinese parent corporation, Moody ruled.

"Plaintiffs have not been able to take discovery which may help them obtain sufficient facts to support the assertion of jurisdiction," the judge wrote. "The Court will therefore allow limited jurisdictional discovery for a period of 90 days."

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