UNITED STATES: Sabzali conviction overturned, new trial ordered

Issue 

BY DOUG LORIMER

On June 16, a US federal judge in Philadelphia overturned the conviction of Jim Sabzali, the first Canadian citizen to be found guilty of violating the US trade embargo against Cuba.

Sabzali had faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, after his April 2002 conviction of 20 counts of violating the 41-year-old Trading With The Enemy Act and one count of "conspiracy to trade with the enemy". The charges related to the sale of water-purification products to Cuba on behalf of foreign subsidiaries of his employer, the Philadelphia-based Bro-Tech Corporation.

In overturning Sabzali's conviction and granting his lawyers' request for a new trial, Justice Mary Laughlin castigated government prosecutor Joseph Poluka for using "inflammatory language", unfounded allegations of deception, and repeated allusions to "lies, double lies and pack of lies" in his summation to the jury in the original trial.

"The decision is a scathing report on the government's tactics in this case", Sabzali told the Toronto Star. "If you distill everything, it says the US government saw the need to fabricate evidence to make their case. They lied; they lied about the reasons why they lied."

His case has far-reaching trade implications for Canadian companies that do business with Cuba. Eight of the charges against him were for sales to Cuba that he generated when he was living and working in Canada, before moving to Bro-Tech's Philadelphia office in 1996.

In Canada, it's legal to trade with Cuba. Canadian law actually prohibits companies from supporting the US trade embargo against Cuba. When Sabzali was first charged in October 2000, the Canadian government officially objected to the US government enforcing its trade embargo against Cuba beyond its own borders.

From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.
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