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U.S. prosecutors fight ruling limiting foreign bribery cases

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Thursday urged a federal appeals court to overturn a 2015 court ruling that sharply limited their ability to prosecute foreigners under a U.S. bribery law.

Sangita Rao, an attorney for the government, told the 2nd Circuit judges on Thursday that the earlier decision incorrectly concluded that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act could not apply to Lawrence Hoskins, a UK citizen who worked for French industrial company Alstom SA in Asia, unless he was an "agent" of a U.S. concern.

The law, enacted in 1977, makes it illegal for U.S. companies, and foreign issuers of securities overseen by U.S. regulators, to bribe foreign officials. Upholding the 2015 ruling could make it more difficult for the United States to charge non-U.S. citizens acting outside the country.

"Congress was well aware that foreigners who assist domestic people in domestic crimes can be held liable under the statute," Rao said.

In 2012, U.S. prosecutors charged Hoskins under the law with conspiring to bribe Indonesian officials to secure a contract.

The charges emerged from a larger bribery probe that resulted in Alstom pleading guilty to paying $75 million in bribes in countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. The company was ordered to pay a $772.3 million criminal fine in 2015.

Hoskins moved in June 2015 to dismiss charges against him. U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton did not dismiss them outright, but ruled that to be convicted, Hoskins would need to be proven an "agent" of a domestic concern.

The government appealed to the 2nd Circuit, arguing that Hoskins could be liable for taking part in a criminal conspiracy that included Alstom's U.S. subsidiary, even if he was not its agent.

On Thursday, Christopher Morvillo, Hoskins' attorney, began by arguing that the 2nd Circuit should not be hearing the appeal at all, because Arterton had only limited the prosecutors' case, not dismissed it.

He also said Arterton had been right to limit the application of the law, saying there was "no question" it applied only to "certain classes of people."

Another attorney, Ira Feinberg, presented a short argument on behalf of New York Council of Defense Lawyers as a friend of the court, in support of Hoskins.

Feinberg said there was a presumption against applying U.S. laws outside the country, and therefore such applications had to be made explicit by Congress.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Richard Chang)

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