Legal Newsline

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Defendants say Kazakh brothers using U.S. courts to file dubious claims

By Jessica Karmasek | Oct 1, 2015

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A Kazakh businessman, who has played a part in filing nearly half-a-dozen racketeering and defamation lawsuits in U.S. federal courts in recent years, is at it again -- this time accusing the owner and operators of various websites of defamation.

Devincci Hourani filed his most recent lawsuit June 17 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The named defendants are PsyberSolutions LLC, CEO Allison Blair, Alistair Thomson and Bryan McCarthy, and they claim Hourani is wasting the court's time with "threadbare allegations."

According to Hourani’s complaint, Thomson and McCarthy were paid by PsyberSolutions and Blair to organize the defamation “campaign” by carrying out “social networking strategy and consultancy” and computer programming.

The defendants, in a motion to dismiss filed Aug. 24, take a shot at the frequent-filer Hourani, saying he is “no stranger” to the court.

“Although he is a prominent businessman whose businesses interests are primarily located outside of the United States, Plaintiff has previously attempted to use the law of defamation and conspiracy in this District to quash the flow of negative information about his activities even when, as here, those activities are widely reported around the globe, and currently the subject-matter of a foreign lawsuit,” they wrote.

Hourani contends that all of the online publications from the defendants’ campaign on various websites -- Facebook, YouTube, Twitter -- assert that he was complicit in the abduction, false imprisonment, torture, rape and murder of Anastasiya Novikova in Beirut in 2004 and in the kidnap of her daughter.

The publications allege that, following Novikova’s murder, Hourani sought to cover up the crime and that he is now attempting to evade justice by hiding in London.

The defendants note that Hourani and his brother, Issam -- who, the defendants added, is now suing them in the United Kingdom with respect to the same allegedly defamatory content -- attempted to convince the same federal court of the “existence of a conspiracy” that supposedly stripped them of their multi-billion dollar assets in the Republic of Kazakhstan and falsely branded them “international criminals and terrorists.”

The case the defendants are referring to, Hourani v. Mirtchev, was filed in the D.C. federal court in September 2010.

The Hourani brothers sued economist Alexander Mirtchev, who is president and founder of Krull Corporation, a global strategic solutions provider.

Among the Houranis’ claims were civil conspiracy and defamation. In particular, the brothers claimed the daughter of the President of Kazakhstan extorted millions of dollars of their business assets with the help of Mirtchev and his D.C.-based business. The businessmen previously owned oil, broadcasting and publishing companies in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Mirtchev argued in a November 2010 filing that the brothers’ lawsuit was misplaced and frivolous.

The lawsuit, he wrote, was brought against him and his business in a United States court “on the basis of groundless speculation and reckless allegations.”

Judge Thomas Hogan ended up dismissing the Houranis’ complaint with prejudice in May 2013, noting that the plaintiffs’ claim for conspiracy to defame was “precisely the kind of ‘mere conclusion’ that is not ‘entitled to the assumption of truth.’”

The PsyberSolutions defendants, in their August motion, contend Devincci’s current attempt is “no different.”

“He weaves together threadbare allegations to accuse the Defendants of ‘character assassination.’ He claims that his ‘reputation’ in this country, whatever that may be, has been tarnished, and that he has experienced mental and physical distress, due to Defendants’ alleged activities,” they wrote.

“Yet, despite the professed severity of his claims, Plaintiff does not provide the Court with anything other than conclusory allegations and fails to connect any of the Defendants to his claims in a meaningful manner.

“The Complaint attempts to portray Plaintiff as the victim of a smear campaign who has allegedly been damaged in an amount in excess of $100,000,000. This is done, when in reality, the Complaint fails to disclose crucial details about Plaintiff’s involvement in the events that are at the crux of the allegedly defamatory statements -- events that are a matter of public concern, and about which any commentary would be constitutionally protected.”

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the D.C. federal court’s decision in Mirtchev.

The federal court dismissed the Houranis’ complaint for failure to state a claim, and the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

“The Houranis do not contend that their complaint states a claim of domestic Hobbs Act extortion by Mirtchev or anyone else. Nor do they assert that the actual extortion of their assets in Kazakhstan was itself in any way a violation of the Hobbs Act,” the panel wrote in its 28-page ruling.

“They argue only that Mirtchev’s agreement in D.C. to Dariga Nazarbayeva’s extraterritorial, non-Hobbs-Act extortion scheme in Kazakhstan constituted a conspiracy in the United States to violate the Hobbs Act.”

The Houranis also failed to state a claim for money laundering, the panel found.

The federal money laundering statute, the D.C. Circuit explained, defines “unlawful activity,” and the alleged extortion in Kazakhstan falls outside that definition.

On top of that, the Houranis’ complaint nowhere alleges that they were injured in any way by the alleged acts of money laundering, the panel found.

“With no injury from the money laundering, and no cognizable Hobbs Act claim to supply the missing injury either, the Houranis have no injurious predicate acts at all, let alone a pattern of them,” the D.C. Circuit wrote.

“The wheels have completely come off of the Houranis’ civil RICO claim.”

Mirtchev’s attorneys -- the law firms Bracewell & Giuliani LLP and Sale & Quinn PC -- said they were pleased with the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, also describing the Houranis’ ongoing filings in the federal court as abusive and wasteful.

“This is the latest in three consecutive rebukes of the Houranis’ attempts to abuse U.S. courts by filing malicious complaints,” the firms said of the Mirtchev ruling.

“These complaints were part of the failed legal harassment, PR and lobbying campaign formerly led by the Houranis’ relative, the late former Kazakhstan KGB (now KNB) Major General Rakhat Aliyev, who was the source of the fabricated documents that were the foundation of the case, the negative PR information, and the campaign.”

John Quinn of Sale & Quinn, who served as co-counsel for Mirtchev, has said the Houranis’ claims should not have been filed in any court and “had no business before U.S. courts.”

“The only ‘factual’ support for any claim against defendants was fabricated documents generated by General [Rakhat] Aliyev that were proven to be forgeries by world class experts, including renowned document examiner Gideon Epstein who characterized plaintiffs’ evidence as cut and paste forgeries,” Quinn noted in an interview with Legal Newsline in August.

New York City law firm Melito & Adolfsen PC represented the Houranis in Mirtchev and currently are representing Devincci in PsyberSolutions.

According to its website, in the last 10 years it has developed a “significant international practice” representing clients in Western Europe and the Middle East.

The firm claims it has developed “special expertise” in terrorism claims, criminal defense of foreigners alleged to have violated U.S. law, investigation and compliance under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, defamation and RICO claims.

Judge Rosemary Collyer has been assigned to the PsyberSolutions case.

In an Aug. 31 minute order, she granted -- despite its “erroneous formatting” -- Hourani’s motion for an extension to respond to the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

According to the judge’s order, Hourani’s opposition is due Oct. 16. The defendants’ reply is due Nov. 6.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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