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FILLER v. HANVIT BANK

February 27, 2003

GARY B. FILLER AND LAWRENCE PERLMAN, TRUSTEES OF THE TRA RIGHTS TRUST PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HANVIT BANK, SHINHAN BANK, AND CHOHUNG BANK DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiffs Filler and Perlman are trustees of the TRA Trust, the sole successor in interest to Seagate Technology, Inc. ("Seagate"). This action arises out of the transfer by Seagate of its shares in Dragon Systems, Inc. to Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products NV ("L&H Belgium"), in exchange for shares in L&H Belgium. That transaction took place on June 7, 2000. Defendants are three Korean banks which plaintiffs allege engaged in a scheme to defraud investors in the shares of L&H Belgium by entering into sham agreements with L&H Belgium's Korean subsidiary, Lernout & Hauspie Korea ("L&H Korea"), which enabled L&H Belgium to inflate its revenues and assets. Plaintiffs assert six claims: (1) securities fraud in violation of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act and SEC Rule 10b-5; (2) racketeering in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c); (3) conspiracy to engage in racketeering in violation of RICO, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); (4) common law fraud; (5) aiding and abetting common law fraud; and (6) conspiracy to defraud. All three defendants move to dismiss the claims against them under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b) for failure to plead fraud with particularity. Additionally, defendants Hanvit Bank ("Hanvit") and Chohung Bank ("Chohung") move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1601, et seq.

For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions to dismiss under Rule 9(b) are granted, with leave to plaintiffs to amend the complaint with respect to Shinhan Bank ("Shinhan") by March 31, 2003. The claims against Hanvit and Chohung are dismissed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Lack of Jurisdiction Under the FSIA

As an initial matter, defendants Hanvit and Chohung argue that the court lacks jurisdiction over them because they are foreign states within the meaning of the FSIA. 28 U.S.C. § 1604 provides immunity to "foreign state[s]" subject to certain exceptions set forth in sections 1605 through 1607. Section 1603(a) provides, in relevant part, that "[a] `foreign state' . . . includes a political subdivision of a foreign state or an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state as defined in subsection (b)." Subsection (b) states:

An `agency or instrumentality of a foreign state' means any entity —
(1) which is a separate legal person, corporate or otherwise, and
(2) which is an organ of a foreign state or political subdivision thereof, or a majority of whose shares or other ownership interest is owned by a foreign state or political subdivision thereof, and
(3) which is neither a citizen of a State of the United States . . . nor created under the laws of any third country. 28 U.S.C. § 1603(b).

A defendant need make only a prima facie showing that it is a foreign state. Once a defendant makes such a showing, it is presumptively immune and the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that a statutory exception to immunity applies. See Cargill Int'l SA v. M/T Pavel Dybenko, 991 F.2d 1012, 1016 (2d Cir. 1993).

Chohung and Hanvit are corporations organized under the laws of the Republic of Korea, as required by the first and third prongs of the definition of a foreign state. The main dispute between the parties with respect to immunity is whether Chohung and Hanvit meet the second prong of the definition because they are owned by the Korean government through the Korean Deposit Insurance Corporation ("KDIC").*fn1 The judges of this court are split on whether such "tiering" of entities is allowed under the FSIA. Compare Musopole v. South African Airways, 172 F. Supp.2d 443, 445-47 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (holding tiering permissible); Lehman Bros. Commercial Corp. v. Minmetals Int'; Non-Gerrous Metals Trading Co., 169 F. Supp.2d 186, 190-91 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (same); Parex Bank v. Russian Savings Bank, 81 F. Supp.2d 506, 507 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (same); with Bank of China v. NBM, 2002 WL 1072235 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (holding tiering impermissible); In re Ski Train Fire in Kaprun, Austria on November 11, 2000, 198 F. Supp.2d 420 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (same). Determination of this issue turns on whether the term "foreign state" under Section 1603(b)(2) includes "agencies or instrumentalities of a foreign state" or is limited to foreign nations themselves. The Second Circuit has not yet ruled on this question.

Those judges allowing tiering base this conclusion on an analysis of the legislative history and purpose of the FSIA. Judges holding tiering impermissible have attempted to read the ambiguity out of the words of Section 1603, and are also concerned that a foreign government's interest in a defendant might become very remote if tiering is taken to its furthest extremes. It is important to note that in this case, the Korean government owns a large majority of the shares of Chohung and Hanvit. While this ownership is through an intermediate entity, the KDIC, the government's ownership interest in the banks is not diluted. The KDIC was established by a Korean statute — the Depositors Protection Act. It performs a function traditionally performed by governments: "to contribute to protecting depositors and maintaining the stability of the financial system by efficiently operating a deposit insurance system in order to cope with a situation in which a financial institution is unable to pay its depositors due to its bankruptcy." Depositors Protection Act, Article 1 (translated). Directors of the KDIC are appointed by the Korean Ministry of Finance and Economy and the president of the KDIC is appointed by the President of the Republic of Korea. The Ministry of Finance and Economy oversees many of the KDIC's operations. Thus, the KDIC is an "organ" of the Korean government within the meaning of Section 1603(b)(2) and it would appear that the treasury of the Republic of Korea would be affected by a judgment against banks owned by the KDIC.

This is not the hypothetical case in which a foreign government owns only 51% of the intermediate entity and the intermediate entity, in turn, owns 51% of the defendant. In this case, an organ of the Korean government owns more than 70% of Chohung and Hanvit. I adopt the reasoning of my colleagues who permit tiering. Because the statutory language is ambiguous, I do not subscribe to efforts to treat the words as if they were crystals. Defendants have therefore ...


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