US judge vacates Och-Ziff class action hours after certifying it

A federal judge on Wednesday certified a class-action lawsuit against Och-Ziff Capital Management related to a bribery probe, only to throw out the certification six hours later after being advised that the company had not had a chance to object.

The reversal by U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken in Manhattan came in a lawsuit in which Och-Ziff shareholders accused the largest publicly traded U.S. hedge fund company of misleading them about U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probes into its investments in Africa.

Shareholders from February 2012 to August 2014 claimed that Och-Ziff artificially inflated its share price by concealing its Africa dealings and the probes, and that the stock fell as the truth became known.

Oetken originally called the certification bid "unopposed" because the defendants Och-Ziff, Chief Executive Daniel Och and Chief Financial Officer Joel Frank had not responded.

But after being told by lawyers for the defendants that he had given them until Oct. 11 to oppose class certification, and that they planned to do so, Oetken voided his certification order and affirmed that deadline.

"Because defendants' time to respond to the motion for class certification had not yet elapsed, the court's order was premature and is hereby vacated," Oetken wrote.

Despite the reversal, Oetken had signaled he might look favorably on class certification, which could lead to higher recoveries at lower cost than if plaintiffs sued individually.

In his original order, he said claims such as those made by the plaintiffs "are generally suited to class action litigation," and that the lawsuit "satisfies all the requirements for class certification."

The Och-Ziff defendants have denied committing securities fraud.

U.S. authorities have been investigating whether Och-Ziff bribed Libyan officials to win business from that country's sovereign wealth fund, and whether Och-Ziff loans funded illegal payments to the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The New York-based company has earmarked $414 million for a possible settlement with the U.S. government relating to the investigation.

The case is Menaldi v Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-03251.