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Federal defendant wants charges dropped but won't come back for trial

Jim Balloch, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:40 PM

(MCT) – Samer Ghazi Bakri was indicted on money laundering and conspiracy charges more than 13 years ago.

Those charges should be dismissed, he maintains, because he has not gotten a speedy trial.

Well, no wonder, say federal prosecutors. That's because he made a speedy escape before agents could slap the cuffs on him and never came back for trial.

Indictments against Bakri and his brother, Nazif Ghazi Bakri, who were operators of the popular West Knox County nightspot Cotton Eyed Joe, were returned in May 2000.

The charges against Samer Bakri included interstate and international transportation of stolen money.

Nazif Bakri eventually pleaded guilty to failure to pay personal income tax.

But when the indictments were issued, Samer Bakri had already fled to his native country Jordan because he had learned he was under investigation, according to court documents.

In October, his attorney, Doug Trant, filed a motion asking for all of the charges to be dismissed because Bakri was denied his right to a speedy trial as the Sixth Amendment guarantees.

"The length of the delay of over 13 years is an extremely long delay," Trant wrote. "The reason for the delay is the government's negligence in (failing to extradite) the defendant from the Kingdom of Jordan, when it knew he was located there the entire time."

Prosecutors say an effort to extradite Bakri would have been futile, because Jordan has no enforceable extradition treaty.

"While the United States is required to exercise due diligence when pursuing criminals, due diligence does not require ... heroic efforts to apprehend a fugitive in all situations," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore wrote in a motion filed Friday.

The U.S. could not have succeeded in trying to extradite Bakri from Jordan, Theodore asserted.

"Although, ostensibly, there is an extradition treaty between the U.S. and Jordan which was ratified in 1995, that treaty is not enforceable as a practical matter," Theodore wrote. "Jordan claims the treaty was never ratified and violates its Constitution."

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