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Community Finance Group, Inc v. Republic of Kenya; Kenya Revenue Authority; Kenya Department of

December 15, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wollman, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: November 15, 2011

Before WOLLMAN, MURPHY, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

Community Finance Group, Inc. and its general manager Andrew Vilenchik (collectively referred to as "CFG" or "plaintiffs"), appeal the district court's*fn1 dismissal of their claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Because the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1602 et seq., applies to all defendants and no exception to sovereign immunity exists in this case, we affirm.*fn2


According to CFG's amended complaint, in October of 2008, Vilenchik commenced discussions with John Saina, a United States citizen and former Kenyan national who previously worked for the Kenyan police, concerning opportunities for purchasing gold for CFG. Saina explored such opportunities in Kenya on CFG's behalf. CFG ultimately contracted with Zilicon Freighters, Ltd. to purchase 300 kilograms of gold for $6 million. CFG and Zilicon, through representative Illunga Ngoei (Illunga), agreed that CFG would establish a $350,000 escrow account with Miller & Company to cover Kenyan taxes, customs fees, and storage associated with the transaction. Later, CFG instead wired the $350,000 to a bank account of Great Lakes Auto Tech Int'l Ltd. (Great Lakes), a holding company of Zilicon, apparently to expedite customs payments and export. CFG and Great Lakes facilitated the transfer through Bay Forex Bureau, a Kenyan-licensed foreign exchange bureau.

The Kenya Central Bank verified the $350,000 transaction on June 16, 2009. The next day, Paul Kazungu, a Kenyan customs officer, informed CFG that a permit from the United Nations was necessary before the gold could be released for export. On June 18, 2009, two individuals claiming to be officials with the Nairobi United Nations office told CFG that the gold derived from a consignment confiscated by Kenyan customs officials that also contained diamonds and that CFG would be required to purchase the entire consignment. CFG became suspicious, retained a Kenyan lawyer, and filed a complaint with the Kenya Central Bank Fraud Investigations Department (BFID). Police then arrested Illunga.

On June 26, 2009, Kenyan police brought CFG representatives to the customs office at Kenyatta International Airport, where the representatives were informed that the gold had been removed from the airport and was being stored at the Kenya Central Bank. During the BFID investigation, various currency, check cards, and bank statements of Illunga were seized, and ten of Illunga's Kenyan bank accounts were frozen. In February of 2010, the Kenyan police informed CFG that Illunga's prosecution had been put on hold. This was CFG's last communication with the Kenyan police. None of CFG's $350,000 has been returned, and CFG never received any gold. In addition, plaintiffs have discovered that the Kenyan attorney they retained also represents the Kenya Central Bank.

CFG brought suit against the Republic of Kenya, Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Department of Customs, and Kenya Central Bank for breach of duty, improper taking in violation of international law, conversion, conspiracy to commit a tort, aiding and abetting an improper taking and fraudulent scheme, and unjust enrichment. Following defendants' motion to dismiss, the district court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.


"We review de novo questions of subject matter jurisdiction." Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. WMR E-Pin LLC, 653 F.3d 702, 705 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Sac & Fox Tribe v. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 439 F.3d 832, 835 (8th Cir. 2006)). "We must accept all factual allegations in the pleadings as true and view them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Hastings v. Wilson, 516 F.3d 1055, 1058 (8th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted).


"[T]he FSIA provides the sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over a foreign state in the courts of this country." Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428, 443 (1989); see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330(a), 1604. Under the FSIA, a foreign state is "presumptively immune" from the jurisdiction of American courts and "unless a specified exception applies, a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim against a foreign state." Saudi Arabia v. Nelson, 507 U.S. 349, 355 (1993) (citations omitted). The FSIA defines a foreign state as including "a political subdivision of a foreign state or an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1603(a).

"Once a foreign state makes a prima facie showing of immunity, the plaintiff seeking to litigate in the United States then has the burden of showing that an exception applies." Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Grossman, 991 F.2d 1376, 1382 (8th Cir. 1993) (internal citation omitted). Here, defendants consist of the foreign state of Kenya and agencies or instrumentalities of Kenya. Plaintiffs thus ...

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