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Och-Ziff says U.S. judge ignored own deadline in class action

| NEW YORK, Sept 14

NEW YORK, Sept 14 Lawyers for Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC said a federal judge ignored his own deadline by certifying a class-action lawsuit tied to a bribery probe on Wednesday without giving the largest publicly traded U.S. hedge fund company a chance to object.

U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken in Manhattan said Och-Ziff shareholders from February 2012 to August 2014 can sue as a group over allegations that the company misled them about U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probes into its investments in Africa.

The judge called the class certification bid "unopposed" because the defendants Och-Ziff, Chief Executive Daniel Och and Chief Financial Officer Joel Frank had not responded.

But less than two hours later, lawyers for the defendants told Oetken in a letter that he ruled too quickly, having given them until Oct. 11 to respond, in accordance with a scheduling order he issued in May.

The lawyers said Och-Ziff, Och and Frank intend to oppose class certification, and urged Oetken to vacate his order.

Oetken's chambers declined to comment. Jeremy Lieberman, a lawyer for the Och-Ziff shareholders, also declined to comment.

Even if he vacated the order, Oetken signaled he might look favorably on class certification, which could lead to higher recoveries at lower cost than if plaintiffs sued individually.

He said claims such as those made by the plaintiffs' "are generally suited to class action litigation," and that the lawsuit "satisfies all the requirements for class certification."

U.S. authorities have been investigating whether Och-Ziff bribed Libyan officials to win business from that country's sovereign wealth fund, and whether Och-Ziff loans funded illegal payments to the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The New York-based company has earmarked $414 million for a possible settlement with the U.S. government relating to the investigation.

The case is Menaldi v Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-03251. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

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