$100 Million Lawsuit Against Venezuela Now Underway in U.S. Court

law book and gavelThe case itself is over a decade old, and some of the details involved go back even further, but a federal trial over a $100 million lawsuit issued in 2004 has finally begun in a United States court in the state of Ohio. At first glance the surrounding details read like something out of a James Bond plot.

According to FireEngineering.com, allegations in the lawsuit include fraud, hints of an international criminal conspiracy, references to diamonds, German junk bonds, and a mysterious house fire in Switzerland. The crux of the argument stems from three-decade-old promissory notes issued by a now-defunct government-sponsored Venezuelan bank.

Attorneys for the plaintiff, Sky Ventures in Columbus, OH, are arguing that an agricultural development bank known as Bandagro owed the money and that the debt now rests on the shoulders of the Venezuelan government. It’s a point they contend the Venezuelan government has agreed with.

“This case is straightforward: It’s about a bank’s refusal to honor a debt,” wrote Charles Cooper, a Columbus attorney representing Skye Ventures, in a Jan. 27 court document.

The defendants, of course, are refuting these claims saying that the notes in question were forged and never backed by the government at all.

“The evidence will show not only that the purported notes are fake, but also that the plaintiff seeks to capitalize on a long-running international fraud,” Albert Lucas, a Columbus attorney representing Venezuela, said in a Jan. 27 filing summarizing the Venezuelan government’s case.

In 2003, Skye Ventures purchased the promissory notes after the Venezuelan attorney general and a 2003 report by the country’s Ministry of Finance allegedly confirmed that the notes were real and guaranteed to be paid. Lawyers for Venezuela now argue that the decision then was not binding, and, in fact, Skye Ventures should have known the notes were likely fraudulent.

According to the Venezuelan government, the scam was organized by “a notorious international criminal” who had already been convicted of similar crimes involving Bandagro promissory notes before he died in a house fire in Switzerland. In the U.S. house fires are fairly common (one was reported every 85 seconds on average in 2013), but it’s unclear the exact details surrounding the Swiss house fire.

Lawyers for Skye Ventures also allege that a group associated with the international criminal purchased bonds “in exchange for ‘much more’ than $250 million, supposedly comprised of an unspecified combination of diamonds, German junk bonds and cash.”

Attorneys for Venezuela deny these allegations have any truth.

The reason for the long delay in the trial is that many earlier proceedings had to establish, among other things, that the Venezuela government could be sued and that the trial could take place in the U.S.