Yahoo Is Sued for Failing to Keep 2007 China Dissident Promises

  • Company pledged aid after giving data that led to arrests
  • Dissidents say firm depleted humanitarian relief fund

Yahoo! Inc. failed to keep financial and humanitarian commitments made a decade ago after it admitted helping the Chinese government find dissidents who were later jailed, according to a lawsuit against the web company.

The suit brought by seven previously imprisoned Chinese dissidents and the wife of an eighth seeks to enforce promises made when the Sunnyvale, California-based company settled a 2007 lawsuit in San Francisco federal court. The complaint was filed Tuesday in federal court in court in Washington, D.C.

Yahoo had pledged to give support -- legal and otherwise -- to the families of two men jailed as a result of the company sharing their email address and other information with Chinese authorities. The company also said it would create a relief fund for others imprisoned for expressing their views online.

That fund was allegedly ravaged by self-dealing, according to the revised complaint and a statement issued by the law firm that filed it.

“Of the $17.3 million that funded the Yahoo Human Rights Trust, more than $13 million, including $2.6 million for a Washington, D.C. townhouse, has been illegally diverted for expenditures that have nothing to do with providing humanitarian assistance,” according to a statement issued by Washington-based Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

Yahoo has declined to comment on the allegations.

New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. has agreed to acquire Yahoo for $4.48 billion, which was revised lower by $350 million after revelations of security breaches at the web company. The deal is expected to close during the second quarter.

The case is He v. Yahoo!, 17-cv-635, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

— With assistance by Brian Womack

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