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"Good news, but not great news."
Canadian James Sabzali is walking around a 'freer' man than he was a day earlier. A Federal judge in the United States has declared a mistrial, overturning a guilty verdict on charges he violated the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. For over a year, Sabzali has been forced to wear an electronic ankle bracelet that monitored his whereabouts. It has now been removed.
Citing 'prosecutorial misconduct,' Justice Mary McLaughlin expressed concern about the behaviour and language used by Federal prosecutor Joseph Poluka. Sabzali was more direct: "When you have to start fabricating evidence and lying to secure a conviction, it shows something is wrong."
He's not off the hook yet, however, as the U.S. Attorney's office is considering an appeal of McLaughlin's ruling, or may attempt another trial on 76 indictments not covered by the ruling.
Sabzali's alleged crime was in the selling of water purification products to Cuban hospitals. The case gained so much attention because roughly half of the "offenses" were alleged to have occurred while he was living in his Ontario home, working as a private businessman.
His business dealings with Cuba on behalf of a U.S. firm were in fact following the letter of Canadian law, which amended the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act (FEMA) in 1996 to counter the far-reaching claws of the U.S. Helms-Burton Act.
Sabzali and his family are still under sanction, however. The U.S. government has seized the deed to his house and the passports of he and his wife.
Of particular disappointment to many Canadian observers of this case has been the lack of strong protest on behalf of Ottawa (read Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham's response).
The CNC maintains a close watch on the Sabzali case and will present updates as they arise. For background information, read the full coverage by reporter Steve Eckardt).