Sunday, November 22, 2009
Egyptian Jewish Family Whose Factory Was Stolen By Nasser and Aquired By Coca Cola Finally Gets Their Day In Court
This is just one of the millions of tragedies that occured (and continue to occur) to Jews of Arab Countries. Their homes, businesses, lands, and wealth was confiscated by Arab governments and many escaped only with their lives (See Movie Here). Some didn't escape at all. No compensation has ever been given to these Jews or to their families by these anti-Semitic and hostile governments who, even today, destroy the homes and businesses of Jews without even a peep from the "humanitarian communities" who seem so intent upon protecting the lives of terrorists and their families.
Israel, the US, and Canada absorbed most of the Jewish refugees from arab lands, but many those refugees never forgot what was taken from them, how it was taken, and that they must work every day so that justice may prevail.
One of the most courageous families is highlighted in this story about a Coca-Cola bottling plant owned by an Egyptian Jewish family in 1962. That plant, its land, and the business was stolen from the family by the Anti-Jewish Nasser government, and "appropriated" by the Coca-Cola Company.
Now, the family waits for a New York judge to rule on whether or not their case for justice can continue.
May True Justice Prevail for this family, and for every family from whom their livelihood, their homes, their possessions, and their lives were taken.
Coke and confiscation
Nov. 22, 2009
EDWIN BLACK , THE JERUSALEM POST
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.
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."
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. Plaintiff attorneys added in their court filing that for Coca-Cola to deny persecution of Jewish citizens in Egypt is akin to "Holocaust denial."
While Coca-Cola asked the judge to dismiss the case, Bigio's attorneys asked for summary judgment immediately finding the company liable, saying that Coca-Cola's "only hope of prevailing in this litigation is to pervert and misstate the plaintiff's legal claims." After a two-and-a-half-hour oral hearing, which included lengthy oral arguments from both sides and direct questions from federal Judge Barbara S. Jones, the judge said she would soon narrow the diverse issues and make a ruling.
Coca-Cola's attorneys did not return an e-mail requesting comment. Attorney Lewin, contacted after the hearing, declared, "It was shocking to hear Coca-Cola's lawyer throw up every conceivable hyper-technical argument to block consideration of Coca-Cola's continuing trespass on property that Nasser confiscated from Jews because they were Jews. It was comparable to the requests initially made by Swiss insurers for death certificates of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. The court's questions indicated that these spurious responses will not prevent a fair judgment."
THE COMPLEX case began for Refael Bigio one day in August 1962. He was driving to the factory with his father when they encountered police cordons surrounding the buildings at 14 Aswan Street in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. As Bigio and his father nervously walked up the stairs, a policeman barked that the government had nationalized the business. "Give me the keys," he demanded. Once inside the offices, policemen and soldiers demanded the keys to the vault as well.
The nightmare of dispossession suffered by approximately one million Jews throughout the Arab world had finally descended upon the Bigio family. Brutal jailings and intimidation against family members culminated in a forced penniless exodus from the country. The Bigios were expelled with just a few dollars in their pockets. The family fled to Canada. But the Bigios never forgot the life they knew in Egypt - or their assets.
The Bigio assemblage of warehouses and manufacturing buildings, sprawled across 10,000 square meters in the midst of bustling Heliopolis, traces its main commercial life to the 1930s when Bigio's grandfather first bought the land and built a shoe polish plant. Later, the family business added a tin container operation to hold the shoe polish, and from that expanded into general tin plating. Eventually they produced tin bottle caps for soda. In 1942, at the height of World War II, a Coca-Cola licensed bottler became the family's tenant, bottling the world-famous soft drink. Soon after, the fruity drink called Fanta that Coca-Cola originally developed for the Nazi military was added.
In the 1950s, the Coca-Cola licensed bottler in Egypt expanded greatly, the plant was moved to a nearby location, and in 1959 Coca-Cola in Atlanta signed a major license agreement with the Bigios to produce the bottle caps.
In the early 1960s, using the Nazi Aryanization model that seized Jewish businesses and then either used them for state purposes or sold them to others, the Nasser regime ordered middle-class Egyptian Jews pauperized and expelled from the country. The Bigios' land was seized, and their various cola bottling and manufacturing supply companies were nationalized and merged into a single, larger enterprise called the El-Nasr Bottling Company or ENBC. Unbeknownst to the Bigios, the land itself was sold off to the Egyptian national insurance company, Misr.
After the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and signed the Camp David peace treaty, the beginnings of Jewish restitution appeared in Egypt. The Bigios went back to Cairo and sought to recover their property and factories. The government in 1979 invalidated the earlier confiscation. The Egyptian Ministry of Finance issued Decision Number 335, declaring the land rightfully belonged to the Bigios. The government even returned the money Misr Insurance had originally paid for the illegally seized Bigio property.
But Misr refused to comply, unwilling to give up the constantly appreciating land now purportedly valued at many millions based on its central location in fast-growing Heliopolis.
In the early '90s, Egypt embarked upon a sweeping privatization program, selling off nationalized properties, including those seized from innocent Jews in prior decades. This program included not only such public sector entities as the banks and utilities, but also some 400 private enterprises. Together the privatized businesses reportedly accounted for almost 70 percent of the nation's industrial output. In 1994, pursuant to Public Business Sector Law 203, nearly 50 private businesses were sold, according to a 1995 USAID study. The American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt was active in the government's decision-making, lobbying on behalf of US companies colliding at the door to scoop up businesses. These included the two major soda companies.
New York Pepsico bought the Egyptian bottler of Pepsi-Cola.
To the Bigios's astonishment, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, their former business tenant and customer, purchased Coke bottler ENBC for a reported $142 million. The Atlanta conglomerate acted through a Coke subsidiary and in concert with a partner called MAC Investments, according to documents related to the sale. Amid much fanfare, ENBC was renamed the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Egypt (CCBCE). Unmentioned in the glitter and gee-whiz surrounding the acquisition was that the company Coca-Cola purchased from the Egyptian government and renamed CCBCE included the illegally seized and never returned businesses of the Bigio family.
Coca-Cola was thrilled with its major multimillion-dollar business accomplishment. In a 1994 declaration to shareholders shortly after acquisition, the company stated, "The company is committed to continuing to strengthen its existing strong bottler system. Over the last decade, bottling investments have represented a significant portion of the company's capital investments... When considered appropriate, the company makes equity investments in bottling companies. Through these investments, the company is able to help focus and improve sales and marketing programs, assist in the development of effective business and information systems and help establish capital structures...
"For example, the joint venture known as the Coca-Cola Bottling Companies of Egypt was formed in the second quarter of 1994 following the privatization of the Egyptian bottler, which was previously government-owned."
Coke's predilection for success came to pass, judging from internal Coca-Cola information and vendor materials and videos obtained by this reporter. CCBCE now derives an estimated $100m. to $500m. in annual revenue, selling an estimated 150 million cases of soda and related products each year. The operation involves nine bottling plants and about 30 sales and distribution centers throughout Egypt. Employing approximately 7,000 to 8,000 Egyptians, CCBCE has become one of that country's leading employers.
Growth became so explosive, CCBCE needed to install some 700 network computer workstations to handle inventory and customer transactions, monitored by a single state-of-the-art console. A major data center is situated in Cairo, with an emergency back-up facility located 50 kilometers away. Volume escalated so much that the company's call center was outsourced. Production became so enormous that CCBCE had to hire an international environmental consultant to develop a multiphase process for handling emissions, discharges, pollutants and hazards.
So successful was Coca-Cola's Egyptian enterprise, in 2002, secretary of state Colin Powell . . . [MORE]