Tanker War Loot?

tankerwar
Norbert Schiller’s 1987 shot of a Cypriot tanker not long after it had been attacked by Iran

JERSEY, C.I. – Cast your mind back to the Gulf War. Not that one. Nope, not that one. Yup, that one.

The Iran-Iraq War lasted most of the 1980s.

It was a humdinger. No-one really has the foggiest idea how many people died, but most agree it ranged from hundreds of thousands to more than a million, a good many of them civilians.

At the time, the world was living with the daily possibility that tensions between the US and Russia could erupt into nuclear death being rained on at least Europe, if not the whole of humanity.

But one thing the superpowers could agree on was the need to prevent Islam – at least the revolutionary Persian sort – spreading too far beyond Iran’s borders.

So the US, Russia, UK, Germany, Brazil, etc, paid and/or armed Saddam Hussein to slaughter the Iranian revolutionaries, who – for their part – were then and remain now a pretty nasty bunch.

They all set about the bloodshed with tremendous gusto but nobody won. It was all completely in vain. That said, the Iranian revolutionaries are still in power… and we all know what happened to Saddam.

Either way, the war was costly. According to Iranian Perspectives on the Iran–Iraq War, by Farhang Rajaee, the economic cost was more than a trillion dollars.

In the 1980s, that was equivalent to about a quarter of the United States entire GDP.

Talking money may seem crass here, but where there’s war, there’s cash. Buckets of it.

And some of the money from that war – allegedly – is still being fought over in the Royal Court in Jersey.

HOW SO?

In 1987 the war took a turn that really made the West sit up and take notice. Both sides started attacking oil tankers, mainly – but not exclusively – each other’s.

American tankers tended to get left alone.

This got Abdul Fattah Al Bader thinking.

He was an executive at the state-owned Kuwait Oil Tanker Company, which was nervous about what was becoming known as “The Tanker War”.

So Al Bader and his cronies set up offshore shell companies all over the world (although not in Jersey) that allowed the Kuwaiti tankers to sail safely under American flags. The wheeze also allowed Al Bader and his chums to pocket about $140 million.

Al Bader fled Kuwait for England before being sentenced in the 1990s to 35 years in prison in his home country. He’s dead now, but 20 years later and Kuwait still wants its money back.

One of the places they’re chasing it is Jersey.

SWANKY PAD

In particular, they’re interested in a London property – a swanky pad at 104 Berkeley Court, Marylebone Road, NW1 5NE.

104 Berkeley Court. Yours for a few million. Pic from Google Maps
104 Berkeley Court. Pic from Google Maps

It was bought around 2003 by a Jersey company (see where this is going?) called Westport Limited, which is a run by the very-much-still-alive-and-kicking Jersey-based trust company, Sanne.

They looked after Westport on behalf of Nouriya Al Mutawa, Al Bader’s sister-in-law.

Here’s where it gets tricky, and contested.

She says she used her own money to buy the flat for her sister and the late Al Bader so they’d have somewhere to live after he was held to account around 2003 for the tanker wheeze and made bankrupt.

Not so, say the Kuwaitis. The money for the flat was, they say, Al Bader’s loot and should be returned.

The Kuwaitis have been pursuing this in Jersey’s Royal Court for years. Nouriya Al Mutawa recently tried to have the case thrown out but failed. A public trial looks likely.

LOOKING STICKY

As evidence, the Kuwaitis point to another London pad, 80 Viceroy Court. You might not immediately see why this bit’s important, but stick with it.

80 Viceroy Court on the right, Regent's Park on the left...
From Google Maps: 80 Viceroy Court on the right, Regent’s Park on the left…

It was owned by a BVI-registered outfit called Pontirana Investments Limited, and it was to this comfortable hideaway that Al Bader and his fairer half first fled when things started looking sticky for them in Kuwait.

Kuwait’s liberation by the US in 1991 hadn’t done Al Bader any favours. At least he could escape to neutral England.

Or could he? The English High Court has long since ruled that 80 Viceroy Court was bought with dodgy loot. The Al Bader family were kicked out and Viceroy Court was turned over to the Kuwaitis.

Not content, though, they say Al Bader immediately sweet-talked his sister-in-law, Nouriya, into setting up the Jersey company in order to buy him ANOTHER London home.

To back this up, the Kuwaitis say it was Al Bader who told lawyers at the now defunct London law firm, Gardner Weller, that his wife or sister was about to buy a flat for his family. He also allegedly mentioned it to his own lawyers at the still-up-and-running law firm Olswang, who allegedly told him to draw up a lease between whoever ‘owned’ the place (his sister-in-law) and whoever lived there (Al Bader).

This, say the Kuwaitis, was all smoke and mirrors and is actually evidence that the £1.4 million used to buy 104 Berkely Court came from none other than Al Bader, who in any case never paid proper rent.

According to court papers, the Al Baders paid £1,000 a month… pennies for a multi-million pound central London des-res.

CROWNING IRONY

Yet there they lived until Al Bader died in 2009. Not long after, in an irony to crown all ironies, Mrs Al Bader fled England for her native Kuwait before being required to clear up her dead husband’s mess.

According to Jersey Royal Court papers, a UK warrant for her arrest remains outstanding and she is on an all-ports watchlist.

The Berkeley Court flat has, by the way, since been sold and the money – £3.25 million (that’s London for ya!) – is held up in an English court.

The difference now is that it’s not Mrs Al Bader but her sister, Nouriya, who’s left with the mess.

Nouriya says the £1.4 million actually came from her cousin, Anwar Sultan Al-Essa, who claims he owed it to Nouriya’s late brother, Fiaz Abdul Aziz Almutawa.

In effect, she says she inherited her brother’s debt. We don’t what his children have to say about that.

In any case, the cash and the flat it paid for were and are, says Nouriya, her, hers alone, and nothing to do with Al Bader or the dodgy tanker war loot.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL

The Kuwaitis disagree, saying the family are all in it together.

Nouriya, through her lawyer, Advocate David Blackmore from Jersey law firm Appleby’s, says the evidence is circumstantial and has asked – unsuccessfully – for the case to be thrown out.

But acting for the defrauded Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (which is owed many millions) Advocate Bruce Lincoln, from Mourant Ozanne, says Nouriya’s whole argument smacks of the same legal arguments Al Bader used when unsuccessfully trying to hang on to that original London property…. 80 Viceroy Court.

Back then, in the English High Court, Al Bader had said that 80 Viceroy Court had been bought with repayment of a debt from another of Nouriya’s cousins, a Dr Al-Mutawa. That, said Advocate Lincoln, had held no truck with the High Court years ago regarding 80 Viceroy Court, so nor should the current argument in Jersey’s Royal Court regarding 104 Berkeley Court.

“PULLING THE STRINGS”

Advocate Lincoln points to faxes from 2003, when the second flat, 104 Berkeley Court, was being bought, that seem to suggest Al Bader was in fact “pulling the strings”.

This line, from Nouriya’s lawyer at City law firm Devonshire to Al Bader, is suggestive: “If we are seen to be taking instructions from you on a daily basis, that will produce the very evidence that we do not want, namely it will suggest you are the beneficial owner.”

The Kuwaitis, via Advocate Lincoln, also wonder why Nouriya has, to date, come up with five different explanations as to where this £1.4 million to buy the flat came from. The court heard she simply “can’t remember” why this might be.

Al-Essa, for his part (he’s Nouriya’s cousin who re-paid the alleged £1.4 million debt) says he owed the money to Nouriya’s late brother Fiaz, who he’d bought ANOTHER flat from…in 1982…in Lebanon…for $60,000.

Quite how or why a $60,000 property transaction would even take place amid the 1980’s other most dreadful middle-eastern war (250,000 dead) is a mystery. How the $60,000 turned into £1.4 million is another.

Neither mystery was answered in Jersey Royal Court, which came down on the side of Advocate Lincoln and the Kuwaitis.

That is to say, Nouriya’s attempt to chuck out the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company’s claim was itself chucked out.

The case continues.