January 8, 2019 / 8:43 PM / 11 days ago

U.S. Supreme Court rejects mystery firm possibly linked to Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request by a foreign government-owned company over its bid to avoid paying penalties if it does not comply with a subpoena issued by a grand jury in a sealed case possibly linked to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building in seen in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

The court in a brief order turned away a request filed by the company, which is facing a daily fine of $50,000 imposed by a U.S. federal judge in Washington for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued in an investigation. The name of the country and the company and details of the investigation were not publicly disclosed.

There was no indication of how the nine justices voted.

As Mueller’s probe already has implicated foreign entities, the subpoena could be linked to the investigation. Mueller’s office has declined to comment. Russia has denied meddling in the election.

Mueller in February charged three Russian companies as part of a criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper in the election to support Republican President Donald Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Mueller also has charged a series of Russian individuals.

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments in the dispute on Dec. 14, court officials sealed the courtroom, preventing reporters from identifying any of the lawyers involved.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allows foreign countries to avoid being sued in U.S. courts, but does not cover commercial activities.

Minutes after the Supreme Court denied the company’s request, the appeals court issued a more detailed 28-page redacted explanation of its initial Dec. 18 ruling that upheld the penalties.

The unsigned ruling by a three-judge panel concluded that “there is a reasonable probability the information sought through the subpoena here concerns a commercial activity that caused a direct effect in the United States.”

The ruling, which revealed the dollar amount of the daily penalty, noted that the company has a U.S. office and that the company says it has no relevant documents in the United States.

Chief Justice John Roberts on Dec. 23 put a temporary hold on the case while the justices decided how to proceed.

(The story corrects headline to remove word “ruling”.)

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker

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