Egyptian-Jews seek rehearing in Coca-Cola case

Bigio family says their land, confiscated in Nasser's anti-Jewish purges, is now Coca-Cola Egypt's HQ.

May 3, 2012 15:40
3 minute read.
The original kosher Coca-Cola bottle top.

kosher coke 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Raphael Bigio, an Egyptian Jewish businessman who alleges Coca-Cola Egypt is refusing to compensate him for use of his family’s expropriated property in Cairo, filed a petition in a US appeals court on Wednesday, asking judges to restore his family’s lawsuit against the Coca-Cola company.

In his petition to the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for Bigio charged that Coca-Cola Egypt is making use of property belonging to his family in Cairo’s Heliopolis suburb that was expropriated during the early 1960s in an anti- Jewish purge by then-president Gamel Abdel Nasser’s regime.

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Bigio’s lawyers said that for 15 years, the Coca-Cola Company has refused to negotiate with the family for fair compensation for the property, although the global soft drinks giant has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from Coca-Cola Egypt.

In the 1930s, decades before to the property’s expropriation, the Bigio family had leased it to Coca-Cola, which was “fully aware that the property had been stolen from the family without compensation,” the family’s lawyers said. Wednesday’s appeal filing comes after the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York dismissed Bigio’s case against Coca-Cola in March on the grounds that the Bigios had “not sufficiently alleged that the Coca-Cola Company headquarters in the US controlled Coca- Cola Egypt.”

Despite that ruling, however, judges did acknowledge that the Bigios’ lawyers had established that the el-Nasr Bottling Company (ENBC), the Egyptian government-owned firm that Coca-Cola purchased in 1994 and renamed Coca-Cola Egypt, had in fact trespassed on the Bigio family’s property.

In their petition, the Bigio family’s legal team argue that the judges dismissed the claim before Coca-Cola even answered the complaint, and before the plaintiffs were given opportunity for discovery, the pre-trial phase where parties can obtain evidence from each other including by requests for production of documents.

The Bigios’ lawyers added that Coca-Cola has “stonewalled” the family since 1994, when the family first expressed its objections to the company’s purchase of ENBC.

“Since 1997 [Coca-Cola] have also successfully blocked the family’s litigation from advancing beyond its initial stage,” the Bigios’ lawyers added.

The Bigio family is among the many Egyptian Jews from whom the Egyptian authorities under Nasser’s “Arab socialist” regime expropriated and nationalized land and property.

In November 1961, the Beirut newspaper al-Hayat printed the text of a Nasser decree, which stated that “all Jews included in the list of sequestrations are deprived of their civic rights and cannot serve as guardians, caretakers or proxies in any business association or club.”

After the Nasser regime took the Bigios’ land, the family fled Egypt and the UN classified them as refugees. They made their way to France, where they were granted asylum.

Washington-based lawyers Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin, members of the Bigio family’s defense team, said on Wednesday that in the past, Coca-Cola had claimed that Nasser’s nationalization of Jewish property was legal and did not violate international law, and that the Egyptian government therefore holds the Bigios’ property “as of right.”

However, the Bigios’ attorneys have argued that Nasser’s anti-Jewish purge was a clear violation of international law, and that Coca-Cola, which had conducted business with the Bigios before the purge, was aware that the property had been expropriated from the family.

The lawyers said that detailed facts about Coca- Cola’s internal operations concerning their purchase of ENBC could only be proved by evidence exclusively in the company’s files.

“The full roster of Second Circuit Judges will surely see that the panel’s clearly erroneous decision is grossly unjust and rewards Coca-Cola for litigation tactics that conceal the role that its highest corporate officers played in exploiting property confiscated from its owners only because they are Jewish,” attorney Nathan Lewin said.

Meanwhile, despite over a decade and a half of litigation against Coca-Cola, the Bigio family expressed optimism on Wednesday.

“Our family has always considered the USA as an example of righteousness in this world. Our story is one of flagrant abuse, first by an anti-Jewish government, then by a greedy corporate Goliath,” Raphael Bigio said.

“We hope and pray that our case will demonstrate that regardless of who you are, you will be judged in accordance with your deeds and not by what you pretend to be. We have faith that justice can and will ultimately be found in the USA.”

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