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On the eve of an official state visit by Romanian President Traian Basescu, the D.C. law and lobby shop Arent Fox has filed a formal claim with the U.S. Army on behalf of the family of Teo Peter, one of Romania’s biggest rock stars, who was killed in Bucharest by a U.S. Marine during an auto accident in late 2004. The claim, filed July 20 under the Foreign Claims Act, is seeking in excess of $1 million in compensation for Peter’s family after a U.S. court-martial acquitted Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem in February of negligent homicide and adultery. The claim was filed two weeks after it was announced that Basescu would visit the United States. Basescu, whose two-day U.S. tour begins today, is scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. According to news reports, VanGoethem was driving a U.S. Embassy-owned sport utility vehicle on Dec. 4, 2004, when he ran a stop sign and struck a taxi carrying the 50-year-old bass player for Compact, a Romanian rock band. VanGoethem, who is married and has two children, had dropped off a female friend, Ilse Wentworth, at 4:30 a.m., shortly before the accident. Wentworth, a secretary at the embassy, testified that she and VanGoethem bar-hopped and had sex the night of the accident. But the seven-member court-martial board found VanGoethem, the former commander of the Marine security detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, guilty of obstruction of justice and making false statements. “We began to hope that justice would be made by this trial, but [the verdict] felt like someone killed him twice, a second time,” says Peter’s brother, Dorin Peter. “This is the last chance to make some justice.” Claims filed under the Foreign Claims Act seek compensation from the U.S. government for a wrongful act but do not result in an adjudication of guilt or innocence of military officials. “The claim we are filing will get a fair airing, and we are confident the U.S. Department of Defense will use this opportunity to express a meaningful demonstration of its regret for the tragedy,” says John Gurley, a member of Arent Fox’s international practice who has done work in Romania for 18 years. Gurley says the timing of the claim with Basescu’s visit was “fortuitous.” Alina Huszar, third secretary at the Embassy of Romania in Washington, says that Basescu’s visit was scheduled for July 6, adding that the claim over Peter’s death is not on the official agenda with Bush. Huszar notes, however, that it might be addressed when Basescu meets with Rumsfeld. Pentagon officials did not return phone calls. Though Gurley says there’s no formal lobbying effort to have Basescu bring up the issue of Peter’s death, which sent shock waves through Romania, he hopes the issue will be discussed, “to make the bureaucracy work a bit more expeditiously.” Arent Fox is no stranger to Romanian affairs. Diana Dimitriuc-Quaia, a Romanian associate in the firm’s international trade group, has worked with the country before. Additionally, D. Jacques Smith, a partner in the firm, was a U.S. military lawyer who began his career as a litigator while serving with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Navy.
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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