Miami – Three US defense contractors held for five years by leftist rebels in Colombia went one step further to collect a $ 318 million sentence against their former captors, after a US superior court judge dismissed a last-minute appeal of a sanctioned Venezuelan businessman whose assets they want to claim.
Magistrate Clarence Thomas declined to hear Samark López’s emergency appeal, upholding the order of a federal appeals court that immediately released more than $ 53 million of the businessman’s bank accounts in the United States, which had been previously seized, while settles a dispute over a minor court ruling.
The decision was released Thursday in a report by Russ Dallen, director of Caracas Capital Markets, which monitors litigation related to Venezuela. López’s lawyers are now pinning their hopes on an emergency appeal filed before Judge Sonia Sotomayor Tuesday in accordance with Supreme Court rules.RELATED
Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes were captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2003, when their plane was shot down during a turn that monitored drug trafficking. The pilot, Tom Janis, was killed by the rebels after the plane crashed.
All three worked for Northrop Grumman. They were released 12 years ago along with former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, in a reckless rescue by the Colombian army.
In 2012, a federal judge in Florida awarded the three men $ 318 million in compensation to be paid from bank accounts seized from drug traffickers linked to the FARC, which is on the list of terrorist groups.
But they had not been able to receive the money until President Donald J. Trump quietly enacted the 2018 Counter-Terrorism Clarification Act, which allows victims of terrorist groups to receive assets seized by the U.S. government based on drug laws.
The new regulation allowed the men to go after Lopez’s blocked assets in the United States, which include a Citibank account with $ 269 million, two yachts, a plane and luxury properties in Miami.
López is a powerful businessman in Venezuela whose fortune grew thanks to government contracts obtained in the last two decades of socialist rule. He was sanctioned by the United States in 2017 as a “drug lord” along with the then vice president of Venezuela, Tareck El Aissami, who now serves as oil minister, for allegedly laundering profits from the international narcotics trade.
But the ties between López and the FARC are tenuous at best, according to his defense, which includes Dick Gregorie, a former Miami prosecutor with a long history of jailing drug traffickers. Last year, during a trial over the three men’s claim to their assets, experts in the prosecution – including a former agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration – claimed that Lopez had only indirect ties to the rebels. through his friendship with El Aissami, who according to US authorities helped the FARC move cocaine through Venezuela.
The FARC were not directly mentioned when López and El Aissami were sanctioned in 2017, and the only known criminal charges against them are for chartering private flights in the United States in violation of the sanctions, not for drug trafficking.
Dallen said that if all three men are successful in their court claim, this could allow FARC victims to get ahead of Venezuelan creditors and opponents of President Nicolás Maduro who are seeking to recover assets allegedly stolen through corruption.