A federal lawsuit by Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis is on pause while the Justice Department tries to prevent him from gaining access to the files of United Against Nuclear Iran
, The New York Times
The group, which engages in "name and shame" exposures of companies it says are circumventing international sanctions on Tehran, wrote to Restis stating it had proof he was doing business with Iran.
Restis said the dealings by his companies were authorized and humanitarian and sued for defamation. His lawyers demand to see the documents that United Against Nuclear Iran used to make the accusations.
These files could expose material that the Obama administration does not want revealed, according to the Times.
For now, the Justice Department has blocked United Against Nuclear Iran from having to turn over its documents, including a list of financial contributors, to lawyers for the shipping magnate.
The Justice Department said there is a "good faith basis to believe that certain information" would endanger law enforcement. The department's filing "raises questions" about ties between the government and United Against Nuclear Iran, according to the Times.
The judge in the case, Edgardo Ramos of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, termed the government's connection "very curious." He has given the Justice Department until Thursday to clarify whether it will officially seek to keep the group's documents secret. "I am particularly concerned," Ramos said in April, "that the defendants are able to utilize certain information in its public statements, and then not have to answer to their actions on the basis of a privilege."
Attorneys for Restis implied the group is funded by foreign interests, and they want to put Rami Ungar, an Israeli businessman, and Meir Dagan, Israel's former Mossad intelligence chief, on the witness stand.
Various former U.S. government officials are associated with the group. Among them: Francis Townsend, a former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush, and Dennis Ross, who advised various administrations on the Middle East. Retired intelligence chiefs from Israel, Germany, and Britain are also connected to United Against Nuclear Iran.
One of the government lawyers handling the case is Anthony Coppolino, who represented the Bush administration over its warrantless wiretapping program and defended President Barack Obama's power to launch a drone strikes against an American citizen working on behalf of Islamist terrorists, the Times reported.
Restis was detained on criminal charges of embezzlement and money-laundering in 2013, according to media reports.
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