United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff: Daniel Hocker Claman, Marie Michelle Dalton, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, DC; Katharine Ann Wagner, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, Washington, DC.
For JITTISOPA SIRIWAN, Claimant: Stuart Alexander Sears, LEAD ATTORNEY, SCHERTLER & ONORATO, LLP, Washington, DC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.
The government has brought this civil asset forfeiture proceeding against funds in seven bank accounts that it alleges are the proceeds of an illegal scheme to bribe the former tourism minister of Thailand, Ms. Juthamas Siriwan. The bank accounts are in the name of the minister's daughter, Jittisopa Siriwan, a Thai native who has never lived in the United States. Jittisopa Siriwan has filed a claim against the funds and moved to stay proceedings in this case pending the outcome of a related federal criminal case against her and her mother in the Central District of California. The government has cross-moved to strike her claim, contending she lacks standing as a mere " straw owner" of the funds and that her claims are barred by the fugitive disentitlement doctrine. Because the government acknowledges that Jittisopa Siriwan has exercised control over at least one of the accounts by withdrawing funds for her personal use, the Court determines that she has standing to contest the forfeiture. And because the government has not established on this record that Siriwan is seeking to avoid prosecution by declining to enter the United States, the Court finds that the fugitive disentitlement doctrine does not apply. Accordingly, the Court will stay these proceedings pending the outcome of the related criminal case against Siriwan.
The government's Verified Complaint alleges that two U.S. citizens, Gerald and Patricia Green, bribed Juthamas Siriwan, the former Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, in order to obtain contracts to manage the Bangkok International Film Festival and perform other services for the Thai government. Verified Compl. ¶ 2. The complaint claims that the bribery payments were sent to bank accounts located in the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Switzerland and held in the name of Juthamas' daughter, Jittisopa Siriwan. Id. ¶ ¶ 155--71. The Greens have been found guilty of conspiracy and Foreign Corrupt Practice Act violations in relation to the scheme.
United States v. Green, No. 8-cr-59, Amended Judgment (C.D. Cal. Sep. 10, 2010). The Siriwans were indicted in the District Court for the Central District of California and the government made an extradition request, which remains pending. See United States v. Siriwan,
No. 9-cr-81, Def.'s Mot. (C.D. Cal. May 30, 2011). The Siriwans moved for leave to make a special appearance solely for the purpose of moving to dismiss the indictment, which the court granted. Id. They then moved to dismiss the indictment, but consideration of that motion has been stayed pending a possible indictment of the pair in Thailand. Id., Joint Status Report (C.D. Cal. Nov. 19, 2014).
The government filed suit in this case, executed warrants in rem against the bank accounts, and moved to unseal the complaint in October 2013. Order granting Mot. to Unseal Case, Oct. 21, 2013. After receiving notice of this forfeiture proceeding from the government, Jittisopa Siriwan filed a claim to the funds. The government moved to strike, contending that she had missed the deadline provided in Supplemental Rule for Admiralty and Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions (" Supplemental Rule" ) G(5). The Court, however, determined that Siriwan's claim was timely and, alternatively, that the deadline to file should be extended. Mem. Opinion and Order, Dec. 11, 2014. Siriwan thereafter filed an answer and has moved to stay these proceedings pending
the outcome of the ongoing U.S. criminal case. The government opposes the motion and has moved to strike Siriwan's answer for lack of standing or, alternatively, to dismiss the claim and answer under the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, which bars fugitives of criminal prosecution from contesting related civil forfeitures.
The government contends that Jittisopa Siriwan is the " mere nominal holder" of the bank accounts and thus lacks standing to contest the forfeiture because she would not in fact be injured by the loss of the monies. A civil forfeiture claimant's standing " 'turns upon whether the claimant has a sufficient interest in the property to create a case or controversy.'" United States v. 8 Gilcrease Lane, Quincy Florida 32351, 641 F.Supp.2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2009) (quoting Unit ...