During settlement talks in Abu Dhabi last month, lawyers for the Greek shipping tycoon Victor Restis once again extended an offer to United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit headed by former U.S. diplomat (and Miami lawyer) Mark Wallace. UANI has denounced Restis for violating international sanctions against Iran and facilitating Iran’s development of nuclear weapons by secretly exporting Iranian oil in his company’s tankers. To settle the litigation over UANI’s accusations, the Restis entities offered to pay UANI $400,000 and to appoint Wallace to the board of the Restis tanker management company, Golden Energy Management.
There’s nothing unusual about attempting to settle a case involving explosive allegations, of course. But here’s the twist: Restis and his company Enterprise Shipping and Trading are actually plaintiffs in the case, a defamation suit Restis’s lawyers filed in federal court in Manhattan. UANI and Wallace are defendants (along with others). Restis, in other words, was willing to put up nearly a half-million bucks and to admit a sworn enemy into his business in order to settle a claim he initiated. That’s not a typical course for high-stakes litigation.
The two sides, as you might imagine, offer quite different accounts of why Restis has been offering to settle this suit since soon after he filed it last July. According to the transcript of a hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, Restis’s goal is a public announcement from UANI that he isn’t violating anti-Iran sanctions or doing business with the country. His lawyer Michael Bhargava, who took the Restis litigation with him when he moved Monday from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to Chadbourne & Parke, told Ramos that Restis was forced to sue UANI because the non-profit’s devastating allegations were hurting the shipping company’s business. All that the Restis entities really want from the suit, he said, is a withdrawal of UANI’s accusations, which they believe to be based on “fraudulent and facially unreliable” documents.
To achieve that end as quickly as possible, Bhargava told Ramos, Restis invited UANI’s Wallace to sit on Golden Energy’s board to prove to him that his tankers are not illegally transporting Iranian oil. The $400,000 payment that also featured in settlement talks, Bhargava said, was the non-profit’s idea; his client agreed to pay because Restis supports UANI’s goal of blocking Iranian nuclear weaponry.
UANI, meanwhile, has portrayed Restis’s settlement offer as an attempt to buy off his critics and avoid discovery demands by the non-profit, which contends that Restis is still aiding Iran, most recently docking a ship called the Helvetia One at the port in Bandar Imam Khomeini. (Restis counsel Bhargava told Ramos on Friday that the ship was on a legitimate humanitarian mission to deliver grain to Iran.) Last week, UANI’s lawyer, Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, asked Judge Ramos for leave to seek sanctions against Restis, after the Restis entities’ designated corporate representative missed a scheduled deposition.