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|U.S. files brief against Brown & Williamson -
NEW YORK, Sept 4 (Reuters) - The Justice Department has filed a sealed court brief arguing that lawyers for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. <BATS.L> may have participated in a criminal plan to mislead federal regulators, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The brief concerns a behind-the-scenes dispute over documents that Brown & Williamson, the United States' third-largest cigarette manufacturer, is seeking to shield from federal prosecutors, citing attorney-client privilege, people familiar with the matter told the Journal.
In arguing that the material should be handed over, the Justice Department is invoking a rule known as the crime-fraud exception, which nullifies privilege when there is evidence that attorneys may have participated in a crime.
The filing, described by those familiar with the matter as a lengthy summation of grand-jury evidence developed against Brown & Williamson, a subsidiary of B.A.T Industries Plc, was filed by prosecutors last month in federal court in the District of Columbia, but it is unclear what stage the government's effort to gain access to the documents has reached. The matter at least initially would go before Chief Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who rules on questions concerning the presentation of evidence to grand juries in that court.
Teams of Justice Department prosecutors are pursuing criminal investigations of three major U.S. tobacco companies, but the Brown & Williamson probe is believed to be the furthest along. It is focusing on whether the company lied to the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies about its use of a high-nicotine tobacco leaf and its manipulation of nicotine levels in cigarettes, lawyers familiar with the case said.
Brown & Williamson declined to comment on the Justice Department brief. "It would be improper to comment on any matter allegedly before the grand jury," Brown & Williamson's lawyer, William Hendricks, told the Journal.
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