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Judge: Venezuela notes lawsuit should stay in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio is the appropriate forum for an investors' lawsuit seeking to collect $100 million on three-decade-old Venezuelan promissory notes, despite concerns over document translation and witness transportation, a federal judge ruled.

Keeping the case in Ohio is more efficient, and there is clear evidence of a strong connection to Columbus, where the investors' company is located, according to U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus.

"This case is a complex dispute involving parties of different nationalities," Sargus said in a 21-page ruling late Tuesday. "There will undoubtedly be complications and inconveniences for the parties regardless of the forum in which it ultimately proceeds."

Nevertheless, Sargus said he was not convinced that keeping the case in Ohio "will be oppressive, vexatious, or otherwise unduly burdensome" to Venezuela, the defendant.

An attorney representing Venezuela said an appeal was being considered but emphasized the decision had nothing to do with the country's argument that the notes were forgeries.

"We feel convinced on the merits of the case these are fraudulent bonds and we look forward to showing that," Tom Wilner, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, said Wednesday.

At stake is a lawsuit filed by Skye Ventures that seeks payment on the notes from a defunct government-sponsored bank in Venezuela.

Attorneys for Venezuela argued it made more sense to hear the case in the South American country, especially because so many case documents are located there. The attorneys also said it would be difficult to get some of its witnesses to the United States, especially because most are no longer with the Venezuelan government.

Sargus said this argument had merit, but he also noted that many important witnesses for the investors' group live outside Venezuela, some of whom would be reluctant to go there for fear of arrest.

Sargus also agreed that a Spanish-speaking country might be a better place for the trial because of the documents. But he also said that translation will occur no matter where the case is heard and that many of the documents have already been translated into English.

Sargus also highlighted an argument raised by the investors' group, "that in light of modern technology, the location of documentary evidence is a relatively insignificant factor in the overall analysis."

The lawsuit has come back to federal court in Columbus following a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in January not to hear the case. That ruling was a setback for Venezuela, which argued that federal law protects it from U.S. lawsuits because it is a foreign state.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.