Sunday, November 22, 2009

Coca-Cola is guilty of 'Jewish persecution denial'

The latest showdown in the long-running case of Bigio v. Coca-Coca is taking place in a Manhattan courtroom. The Bigio lawyers are claiming that Coca-Cola's defence for having stolen this Jewish family's property is akin to Holocaust denial. Edwin Black, author of Banking on Baghdad, has written a long feature on the case, Coke and confiscation, for the Jerusalem Post: (With thanks: Lily)

In a downtown Manhattan courtroom, where the lawyers and clients up front outnumbered the observers seated in the back, where a forgotten Jewish Egyptian victim challenged an omnipresent multibillion-dollar multinational corporation; in a case where history itself was both on trial and being made, the Coca-Cola Company was publicly accused of being criminally enriched following the Nasser regime's Nazi-style expropriation of Jewish property. More than that, Coca-Cola was accused of obstructing, belittling and stonewalling a decades-long effort to obtain justice, and indeed trying to create a new revisionism that questions whether anti-Jewish persecution actually took place in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Bigio family.

The Bigio family

On November 10, 2009, Egyptian exile Refael Bigio drove down from Montreal, his attorneys Nathan Lewin and Sherrie Savett trained in from Washington DC and Philadelphia, Coca-Cola's chief of litigation John Lewis flew up from Atlanta and the company's defense counsel Richard Cirillo only needed to make a short trip from midtown to argue whether the Coca-Cola Company quietly but consciously benefited when the Nasser regime nationalized Jewish property. The Bigios' property had long been leased by Coca-Cola and their bottle-cap factory made the caps for Coke's products. This factory, the property and related business ultimately became a multimillion dollar asset in the giant Atlanta beverage conglomerate's overseas portfolio.

The Egyptian government takeover of the Bigio family bottle-cap and tin plating factory occurred in 1962, during the openly anti-Jewish regime of president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egypt's government subsequently ruled its Nasser-era seizure of the Bigio property was indeed illegal. Later, however, over the Bigios' objections, Coca-Cola entered into a joint venture to operate what is now the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Egypt on the Bigios' seized property, without compensating the Bigios, according to court papers. The Bigios claim that Coke is and has been trespassing on stolen property.

Now, after years of litigation and fruitless negotiation, Bigio's attorneys have fired a stinging motion for summary judgment, asserting that the uncontradicted facts surrounding Coca-Cola's actions were so blatant that the court should immediately find the corporation liable.

"Coca-Cola is not," wrote attorney Nathan Lewin in his motion, "as it likes to portray itself, a trusting and guileless American corporation that in 1994 innocently purchased a 'minority interest' in some remote business entity that utilizes the Bigios' property. The undisputed evidence establishes that Coca-Cola witnessed how the Bigio family - with which it was intimately bound in a mutually profitable business relationship between the 1940s and 1962 - was victimized by Nasser's ethnic-cleansing policy of taking Jewish property and expelling Jews from Egypt."

Years later, Lewin asserts, after the Egyptian government took minimal steps to remedy the religiously discriminatory brutality of the Nasser regime, Coca-Cola happily took control - through entities which it now claims cannot be "pierced" - of property that Coca-Cola knows was immorally and illegally plundered from the Bigios."


10,000 square meters, the...

10,000 square meters, the Bigio warehouse in Heliopolis, Egypt originally served as a shoe polish plant in the 1930s.

Lewin made the point simple: "Coca-Cola is, we submit, the occupier of stolen property. If this case concerned personalty [personal property] that had been taken in violation of international law from the Bigios, and Coca-Cola knowingly received and used that personal property in order to make enormous profits in Egypt, there would be no doubt that Coca-Cola would be civilly - and possibly even criminally - liable. The rule of law is no different when the stolen goods that are being used by the defendant are land and businesses. The receiver and user of such stolen merchandise cannot claim immunity on the ground that the entity that is directly using the stolen goods is only a subsidiary or an affiliate. Principles governing the tort of trespass and of aiding-and-abetting liability make all who partake in the illegal exploitation - and particularly the head of the entire enterprise - liable to the victims."

In response, Coca-Cola apparently has extensively disputed that the Nasser regime was actually engaged in anti-Jewish persecution, but was merely a socialist government seizing the property of many citizens. The company argues that it had no way of knowing that the property and businesses the Atlanta corporation acquired were made available only as the result of Nasser's anti-Jewish ethnic cleansing.

Bigio's lawyers answered by comparing Coca-Cola to someone witnessing a rape and murder, and then buying the jewelry stolen from the victim. (My emphasis - ed) Plaintiff attorneys added in their court filing that for Coca-Cola to deny persecution of Jewish citizens in Egypt is akin to "Holocaust denial."

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