Kenyan Refugee Whistle-Blower Can’t Seek Reward in USA
(CN) – A Kenyan who blew the whistle on a bank’s illegal activities cannot sue his home country in U.S. courts for the reward money he is allegedly owed, the 8th Circuit ruled.
George Odhiambo, now a refugee, claimed the Republic of Kenya reneged on advertised promises to pay a reward for helping to uncover alleged tax evasion at Charterhouse Bank, a private Kenyan commercial bank.
Odhiambo says he was paid $5,850 for the information he provided.
But Kenyan authorities also exposed him as the Charterhouse whistle-blower, which led to harassing phone calls telling him to leave Kenya and “hostile surveillances.” The U.S. government granted Odhiambo asylum in 2006.
Odhiambo said the Kenyan government promised him more reward money after investigations at Charterhouse confirmed that the bank helped its customers evade taxes. Meetings with numerous Kenyan officials in the U.S. throughout 2008 and 2009 nevertheless proved fruitless. One such meeting even involved Kenya’s prime minister during a trip to New York.
Odhiambo sued the government of Kenya in 2012 for breach of contract, claiming the country owed him over $24.5 million in reward money and $5 million in compensatory damages.
However, a federal judge threw out Odhiambo’s case, finding that the contract assumed its terms would be carried out in Kenya, not elsewhere, and that Kenyan officials did not implicitly waive their sovereign immunity by helping him seek asylum in the U.S.
“[N]othing in Kenya’s rewards offer suggested that the United States might be a place of performance,” said Judge Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the three-judge panel. “Kenya’s alleged breach of its obligations therefore did not create a directeffect in the United States. On the contrary, as the District Court found, the effect in the United States arose only after a variety of intervening events, including the unveiling of Odhiambo’s role as a whistleblower, Odhiambo’s phone call to a Kenyan newspaper and the subsequently published story, Odhiambo’s outreach to Kenya’s Human Rights Commission, and Odhiambo’s move to the United States as a refugee.”
In addition, the Kenyan government’s assistance with Odhiambo’s asylum application does not change its obligations under the rewards contract. “Odhiambo offers no reason to believe that Kenya’s assistance in his asylum application had any impact on the place of performance designated in the rewards offer. Although Kenya knows that Odhiambo is in the United States, that alone does not suffice,” Kavanaugh said (emphasis in original)