A mysterious California organization claiming it represents Vietnam has lost a $28 billion lawsuit seeking damages for a massive 2016 environmental disaster caused by a Taiwanese company in the South China Sea.
Calling himself the "Attorney General" of the Provisional National Government of Vietnam, Orange County's Phat Van Bui filed the complaint in November against Formosa Plastics Corporation for dumping "toxic waste" from a steel plant that wrecked the nation's fishing industry and prompted numerous angry protests.
"The people living around the affected area started getting extremely sick for eating fish and fish products," Bui wrote in the complaint. "The $7 billion USD per annum fishing industry is destroyed, leaving the fisherman jobless . . . The longterm implications of health risks and concerns include birth defects, liver failure, kidney failure, cancer, brain damage an other diseases."
But after paying the $400 filing fee, Bui, who is not a licensed attorney in California, failed to appear at the first hearing for his "trespass" case inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana on March 20.
"Tell me what's going on in this case," U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford said to Kristina Azlin, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing Formosa Plastics Corporation, which has already agreed to pay Vietnamese citizens $500 million in damages.
Azlin said her firm had been unable to locate Bui and his complaint is loaded with "defects," including that he has no legal standing to sue the company in California for alleged actions committed on the other side of the planet.
"The Provisional National Government of Vietnam, which he claims to be a part of, is not recognized by the United States and, as such, cannot be so recognized by a federal court," she opined. "Instead, as is readily apparent from a review of the public record, the United States recognizes and engages in diplomatic relations with the current sitting government of Vietnam, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."
The judge told Azlin, "You have won today."
Two days later, Guilford issued a formal ruling.
"Significantly, the plaintiff didn't attend the hearing, where the court would have welcomed hearing his arguments," he wrote. "Considering the issues and circumstances of this case, the court grants the motion to dismiss."
In the wake of the order, Bui filed a three-page objection, opining that "Guilford did not follow the rules" of court and "does not have the authority or jurisdiction" to end the lawsuit.
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He did not explain why he failed to attend the hearing.
The judge read Bui's objections to the dismissal but rejected them as meaningless.
Using a post office box on Katella Avenue in Anaheim as an office, Bui's group is one of several U.S.-based groups comprised of former South Vietnamese citizens who seek the overthrow of the current communist government running the Southeast Asian nation.
Orange County's Little Saigon serves as home to the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam and is a place where the flag of a non-existent South Vietnam still waves in hundreds of locations.