Iran General NewsSyrian wins High Court case against Iran over jet...

Syrian wins High Court case against Iran over jet purchase

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The Times: A billionaire trader, one of the world’s most prolific gamblers, has won a £60 million High Court battle with the Iranian military over a missing aircraft, The Times has learnt. The Times

Michael Herman and Alex Spence

A billionaire trader, one of the world’s most prolific gamblers, has won a £60 million High Court battle with the Iranian military over a missing aircraft, The Times has learnt.

Fouad al-Zayat – known in casinos as “the fat man” – was accused by the Iranians of taking payment for a jumbo jet that was never delivered. He claimed that he had failed to deliver the plane, meant for use by the country’s President, because of a dispute over money.

The disclosure will drag Mr al-Zayat into the limelight once again. The Syrian-born entrepreneur, said to have gambled more than £200 million, was reluctantly exposed to publicity in March when he was successfully sued by Aspinalls casino over a gambling debt.

The case also shows that despite the recent kidnapping of British service personnel, Iran still uses the British courts to settle costly disputes.

Jason McCue, Mr al-Zayat’s solicitor, said that the British courts should not be used by the Iranian Government to settle costly and needless disputes. “This whole case is preposterous. The Iranian military kidnap our troops and then try and use our courts to settle a private commercial dispute that has nothing to do with the UK. The Iranians are working flat out to develop nuclear weapons and British taxpayers’ are footing the bill for court time to decide whether we should help them boost their coffers,” he said.

The case centres on a deal that Mr al-Zayat brokered during 2002 with intermediaries acting for Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian President.

The Iranian leader had ordered a £49 million passenger jet through Mr al-Zayat’s companies in Britain, Cyprus and the Middle East.

The deal became unstuck in a dispute about payments. During a trip to Lebanon in 2004, Mr al-Zayat claims, he was kidnapped at gunpoint by members of the Iranian Revolutionary guard in Beirut. According to reports, he was held in the Iranian Embassy for a week and released only after signing a document agreeing to pay back the money that the Iranians claimed that he owed them.

Mr al-Zayat, an imposing figure, is well-known among the wealthy Lebanese and Syrian communities of Kensington and has a reputation for generosity. Four years ago, Mr al-Zayat told a newspaper that he had lost large sums at the roulette table in London. “I know it’s wrong to lose money like this, but if you’ve ever been to a casino you will understand what the atmosphere is like,” he said.

Married, with three children, he built his fortune on a string of lucrative deals. Former business partners say that he was an intermediary in contracts for the supply of defence-related equipment in Cyprus and the Middle East.

He has been named in the US courts as a businessman who gave tens of thousands of dollars to a corrupt Republican congressman. Robert Ney was jailed after telling the court that he accepted money from various sources, including gambling chips from Mr al-Zayat.

Iran’s Ministry of Defence sued Mr al-Zayat and his aircraft leasing business FAZ Aviation in London’s High Court. The Iranians argued that since FAZ Aviation’s “principal place of business” at the time it began legal proceedings was London, a British court should hear its claim. But on Wednesday Mr Justice Langley, sitting in the commercial court, ruled that FAZ Aviation – which is incorporated in Cyprus and has its registered office in Nicosia – did not conduct sufficient business in London at the time of the claim. British courts, therefore, had no jurisdiction to intervene in this dispute, he said.

Iran’s solicitors at Norton Rose declined to comment on its client’s plans.

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