Legal trouble is percolating in the heart of the premium coffee world. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, popular protagonist of Dave Eggers’ new book Monk of Mokha, and lux coffee OG Blue Bottle Coffee are named as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by Alkhanshali’s uncle along with the partners in his old company Mocha Mills. The filing alleges all sorts of shady business including racketeering, fraud, blackmail, conspiracy, money-laundering, and embezzlement.
The filing from former Assistant US Attorneys Yasin M. Almadani and Terrence M. Jones on behalf of said plaintiffs claims that Alkhanshali’s meteoric rise to celebrity and wealth is the product of illegal manipulations. In addition, the complaint fingers Blue Bottle as a willing co-conspirator and suggests that the bestselling literato Eggers acted essentially as a propaganda artist. The suit invokes the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) normally used to prosecute the mafia in relation to co-defendants Alkhanshali, Port of Mokha (Alkhanshali’s new company,) Blue Bottle Coffee, two IT companies and Port of Mokha’s CFO Ibrahim Ahmad Ibrahim.
In 2015, Yemen became the darling of the coffee world and Alkhanshali the poster child. As told in Monk of Mokha, coffee was born in the now-war ravaged nation thousands of years ago. More recently, Alkhanshali’s parents were also born there and then moved to the States where they raised there son. However, in 2015, he returned to his homeland with a delegation intent on meeting with coffee growers and building trade.
Although Yemen’s rep as for top-notch coffee had faded, the delegation discovered some unbelievably good beans in country. Unfortunately, during the trip, Yemen’s civil war escalated. Alkhanshali was forced to make a dramatic departure, fleeing in a small, fishing boat along with two sacks of quality beans. The story propelled the region and the man into the limelight, culminating with Eggers’ chart-topping book.
However, the plaintiffs contend that the feel-good story excludes some very dirty details, including their own involvement. They claim that the public tale is a “false narrative” composed by Alkhanshali and penned by Eggers at his behest. “Just as Mokhtar had directed, Eggers wrote Mocha Mill [sic] and the victim partners (Plaintiffs) completely out of the story,” alleges the suit. “Instead, Eggers highlighted Port of Mokha along with Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, and other distributors and retailers with whom Mocha Mill was looking to develop relationships.”
The three partners in Mocha Mill claim that between 2013 through 2016, they spent more than $500,000 financing travel and education for Alkhanshali (and sometimes Eggers) so that he could develop relationships and deals with Yemeni suppliers. Of that sum, they claim $140,000 was stolen by Alkhanshali.
More significantly, the plaintiffs allege that Alkhanshali used the money to secretly build his own, competing business, Port of Mokha and then defraud Mocha Mills. The doc suggests that Alkhanshali created an elaborate plot involving Blue Bottle CEO James Freeman to convince Mocha Mills that the market for Yemeni coffee had crashed long with the value of their inventory. Then in 2016, Alkhanshali resigned from Mocha Mills stating that he was “no longer interested in selling coffee.”
However, according to the litigation, Alkhanshali was secretly starting Port of Mokha along with a second, shell corporation. That shell company, T&H Imports was allegedly a collaboration between T&H Computers and Metra Computer Group that masqueraded as a buyer for the Middle East markets operating of Dubai.
The Mocha Mills partners claim that convinced their inventory was losing value (under false pretenses), they sold 862 kilograms of coffee to T&H for $50,000 ($58 per kilogram.)
“Immediately thereafter T&H Computers sold the same coffee to Port of Mocha [sic] for $51,000, taking a $1,000 commission for its part in the fraud scheme,” the complaint explains. “On May 17, 2016, Port of Mokha sold under its own brand 390 kilograms of the fraudulently obtained Mocha Mill coffee to Blue Bottle for $135 per kilogram. The coffee was also sold for a similar price to Coutume, and other high-end distributors.”
The complaint posits that when the Mocha Mills partners noticed their old Yemeni beans on the shelves of Blue Bottle, they realized that they had been fooled. The filing demanding a jury trial and triple damages was filed shortly thereafter.
The suit’s allegations that Eggers wrote a story designed to prop up one player at the expense of others are causing a scandal of their own in the literary world. Eggers previously endured criticism for his post Katrina bestseller, Zeitoun, after that work’s protagonist, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, became embroiled in criminal troubles after a series of alleged attacks on his wife.