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United States v. Ahsani

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  1. Court Access

Case Number: 4:19-CR-147

Court: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division

Clients: The Financial Times, Global Investigations Review, The Guardian

Motion to Unseal Sentencing Memoranda Filed: Jan. 24, 2023

Background: In 2019, oil executives Cyrus Allen Ahsani and Saman Ahsani pled guilty for their roles in a decades-long corruption and bribery scheme. As executives of Unaoil, a Monaco-based energy consultancy, the two men received kickbacks from government officials in Iran, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and many other countries in return for helping the countries win oil and gas contracts.

In advance of Saman Ahsani’s sentencing on Jan. 30, 2023, attorneys for both the defendant and the government separately filed sentencing memoranda under seal, preventing members of the press and public from accessing key information that informed the court’s sentencing decision.

Reporters Committee attorneys sought to unseal the court records on behalf of The Financial Times, Global Investigations Review, and The Guardian. The news outlets, which have reported extensively on the criminal proceedings, argue that the public has a constitutional and common law right of access to the sealed sentencing memoranda.

Quote: “The public interest in this case, which centers on an international bribery scheme involving one of the world’s most profitable industries, several foreign governments, and numerous major corporations, is substantial. There is significant public interest in the sentencing memoranda, specifically, as they aim to influence the sentence Saman Ahsani — a person at the very heart of the scheme — will receive, and the factors the Court will consider in setting it.”

Related: Reporters Committee attorneys previously represented The Financial Times, Global Investigations Review, and The Guardian in their effort to bring transparency to this case. In 2020, the news outlets successfully intervened to unseal certain judicial records and proceedings.

Update: On Feb. 23, 2023, a federal judge issued an order denying the media coalition’s motion to unseal the sentencing memoranda and related documents. On March 9, 2023, the media coalition filed a notice of appeal. On Aug. 4, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the media coalition’s motion to unseal. 


2023-01-24: Motion to unseal sentencing memoranda

2023-01-24: Declaration of Katie Townsend in support of motion of media intervenors to unseal sentencing memoranda

2023-02-08: Letter from media intervenors

2023-02-23: Order

2023-03-09: Notice of appeal

2023-03-16: Motion to expedite appeal

2023-03-21: Order granting motion to expedite appeal

2023-04-07: Media coalition opening brief

2023-04-07: Record excerpts

2023-05-18: Media coalition motion to unseal appellees’ briefs

2023-05-18: Media coalition reply brief

2023-06-02: Reply in support of media coalition’s motion to unseal appellees’ briefs

2023-08-04: Fifth Circuit opinion

2023-08-04: Fifth Circuit order

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