Company possibly part of Russia probe faces daily $50K fine
WASHINGTON (AP) — An unidentified company owned by a foreign government is facing a court-imposed fine of $50,000 a day for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena that may be part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to block the subpoena and the federal appeals court in Washington issued an opinion soon after that revealed the size of the fine, but little additional information about the company or the foreign government that owns it.
The company had sought to get the Supreme Court involved in the dispute, after lower courts had ruled against it. All the documents in the case were filed under seal, but the court’s docket reflects the filings and the Supreme Court order.
A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Washington had in December upheld the issuance of the subpoena and a contempt order issued by a district court judge when the company failed to comply. The panel’s opinion on Tuesday elaborated on its reasons for ruling against the company, rejecting its arguments that it was protected by a federal law that generally protects foreign governments from lawsuits in the United States.
Chief Justice John Roberts had put a hold on the fine and the company’s compliance, but a brief high court order Tuesday removed that hold.
The unsigned opinion from the appellate panel revealed that the subpoena had been issued to a company owned by a foreign government, which has not been identified. The company had argued that it was immune from being subpoenaed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and that complying would require it to violate its country’s own laws.
The company has an office in the United States and the documents sought by the subpoena are kept outside the country, according to a separate opinion by Judge Stephen Williams. Prosecutors have been trying to get the information since at least the summer, first through negotiation, according to Williams’ opinion.
Both Politico and The Washington Post have reported that the subpoena apparently relates to the Mueller investigation.
The case has been shrouded in secrecy as it has moved through the court system. Federal marshals closed an entire floor of the federal courthouse in Washington last month when the case was argued before the three-judge appellate panel. The move stymied the efforts of a group of about 15 reporters to see whether any Mueller team members or other participants had entered the hearing room.
Also on Tuesday, the company asked the Supreme Court for permission to file a sealed appeal for a full review of the case, with a redacted version available to the public. The justices have yet to act on that request. The high court provided a redacted version of the company’s request, almost all of it blacked out.