Zeltser and Funk claim compensation for tortures in Belarus
American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser and his assistant Vladlena Funk have filed a lawsuit against Belneftechim aka Belneftekhim Concern and Belneftekhim USA in Kings County Supreme Court.
“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,'” American news service for lawyers courthousenews.com quotes it out of their complaint.
“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, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, in a failed criminal effort designed by the defendants and the Belarusian government to force hand of the United States Government to lift economic sanctions imposed against the defendants,” the complaint begins.
“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.
According to the plaintiffs, the KGB agents drugged and abducted them 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.
Vladlena Funk and Emanuel Zeltser claim the oil company conspired in their abduction.
“The defendants acted in concert with the Belarusian 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.
On August 11, 2008 Minsk City Court found Emmanuel Zeltser and Vladlena Funk guilty of using deliberately forged documents and industrial spying attempt. Zeltser was sentenced to three years of imprisonment, Funk got one year of jail term. Both did not admit their guilt.
According to Zeltser, “using deliberately forged documents” implies the last will of his client, Badri Patarkatsishvili, Georgia’s richest man. Patarkatsishvili’s widow Inna Gedavadze and his friend, exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, called the document “forged”. In an interview with the Georgian channel Rustavi-2 after the arrest, Mr. Berezovsky said that Mr. Zeltser was trying “to seize Badri’s assets through faked documents.” Patarkatsishvili’s estate was estimated at $12 billion. Berezovsky was alleged to be claiming fifty percent (50%) of Patarkatsishvili’s investment portfolio.
On March 11, 2008, Mr. Zeltser and Ms. Funk were allegedly abducted in London U.K. by the Belarusian KGB operatives. Then both are believed to have been drugged and secretly renditioned across international borders to Belarus aboard a private jet belonging to Boris Berezovsky, a close friend of the Belarusian president Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Being under great pressure in Minsk, Emanuel Zeltser gave instructions by the phone to pass the original of the document to Berezovsky.
Yielding to demands of international community, Lukashenka released Ms. Funk on March 20, 2009, and Mr. Zeltser on June 30, 2009, when a delegation of the members of the U.S. Congress traveled to Belarus to meet with Lukashenka regarding the hostage crisis.
According to the American lawyer, his detention played into the hand of the Russian oligarch and “somebody in power in Belarus”. Patarkatsishvili invested about $200 mln in Belarusian petrochemistry, Zeltser states.