Iraqi Airways boss in London court over Kuwait dispute

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The chief executive of Iraqi Airways was due to appear in court here on Friday after the first commercial flight from Baghdad to London ended in a legal nightmare for the airline.

Kifah Hassan had his passport seized and the plane he arrived on was impounded at Gatwick Airport on Sunday in a long-running legal dispute with Kuwait Airways.

In London's High Court, Hassan will be pressed by lawyers for the Kuwaiti airline, which says it is owed 1.2 billion dollars (900 million euros), to produce a statement under oath of his airline's worldwide assets.

The dispute dates back to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when, according to the oil-rich emirate, 10 of its planes and aircraft parts were plundered after its airport was seized.

Chris Gooding, of law firm Fasken Martineau acting for Kuwait Airways, said the airline's patience "has run out" after a legal battle stretching for almost two decades.

"To fly into this jurisdiction where they owe 1.2 billion dollars was innocent at best and arrogant at worst," he said.

"The obligation is on him (Hassan) to provide an affidavit of the assets of Iraqi Airways worldwide."

Six years ago, the London High Court authorised Kuwait Airways to seize Iraqi Airways' assets.

Iraqi Airways response to the order "has been to do nothing", Gooding said.

Akil Kawthar, spokesman for the Iraqi transport ministry, hit out at Kuwait's actions, which he said had damaged Iraqi efforts to "reduce the suffering of its people by providing them with the best possible (air) services."

Iraq has previously said that four of the Kuwaiti aircraft taken after the invasion were destroyed in the northern city of Mosul in an allied air strike in January or 1991, during the Gulf War over Kuwait.

The Baghdad government maintains that the other six aircraft were sent to neighbouring Iran who returned the planes directly to Kuwait in 1992.

© 2010 AFP

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