BoNY Says Customs Falsified Document

The Federal Customs Service's $22.5 billion money-laundering lawsuit against the Bank of New York Mellon hit a new snag Wednesday after the bank's lawyer accused customs service representatives of using a falsified document in the case.

The customs service lawyers and a customs service official present in the courtroom denied any wrongdoing in the case, which has been bogged down in procedural arguments since it was filed in May 2007.

A panel of three judges again failed to move closer to considering the merits of complaints by customs officials that insist the Bank of New York laundered money by accepting illicit transfers from Russia into accounts held by dummy U.S. firms in the 1990s.

The bank denies the accusation.

Raising the stakes in the dispute, Ivan Marisin, a lawyer for the bank, said a document that gave a U.S. lawyer the power of attorney to sign the lawsuit on behalf of the Federal Customs Service was counterfeit. The customs service lawyers provided the court with the document -- issued to Steven Marks at Miami-based law firm Podhurst Orseck -- at a court session last month, after Marisin argued that without it the case should be scrapped.

But Marisin said Wednesday that the document, dated April 27, 2007, was fake because it featured a letterhead that the Federal Customs Service introduced several months later, in October.

Marisin's comments appeared to wipe an ironic expression off of the face of Yekaterina Dukhina, a customs service lawyer who had struggled to keep from chuckling at Marisin's earlier comments on a separate issue.

"I am simply shocked! We received the certificate from the Federal Customs Service and we have no doubts about its authenticity," Dukhina said emotionally, prompting the presiding judge, Lyudmila Pulova, to ask if she was all right.

A customs service representative in the courtroom, who refused to give her name to reporters, insisted that the document was genuine. "The accusation of falsification is offensive at the very least," she said.

Marks did not respond to a message requesting comment left on his U.S. mobile phone Wednesday.

Pulova warned the customs service's lawyers and the bank's lawyer that they could face criminal charges if found guilty of falsification and making false accusations, respectively. Dukhina and Maxim Polev, another customs service lawyer, would face up to four months in detention, while Marisin would face up to two years in prison, Pulova said.

"These are serious statements," Pulova cautioned the lawyers. "We have started to make serious speeches."

Tensions also surfaced in an exchange that the judge had with the lawyers at the end of the session. After Dukhina repeatedly interrupted Marisin's comments, he snapped back, "Will you keep quiet, please?"

Pulova asked the service's lawyers prove the authenticity of the power of attorney and invited Federal Customs Service chief Andrei Belyaninov to testify at the next session on Feb. 13. By law, the court could also order an examination of Belyaninov's signature and Federal Customs Service stamp on the certificate.