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Kuwait wins $1bn in Iraqi theft case

State-owned Iraqi Airways must pay Kuwait Airways $1 billion in compensation and interest for the theft of aircraft during Saddam Hussein’s 1990-91 invasion and occupation of Kuwait, the UK’s High Court has ruled, writes Alan George.

The judgement, which comes as part of protracted litigation by Kuwait Airways, relates to two Airbus A300-600s and two Boeing 767-200ERs that were destroyed by allied bombing in early 1991 while parked at the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Just before the allied assault that culminated in Kuwait’s liberation, Iraq had evacuated six other seized Kuwaiti aircraft – five A310s and an A300-600 – to Iran to avert their destruction. The Iranians returned these to Kuwait in 1992, although Kuwait Airways later paid Iran $20 million in parking and maintenance costs.

In ruling against Iraqi Airways, Mr Justice Steel was scathing about the company’s conduct during the litigation. The evidence was “overwhelming” that the company had “pursued a deliberate and sophisticated policy of non-disclosure, suppression and concealment of relevant documents”, he said, adding that this policy had been “revealed not to stop short of forging documents”.

Christopher Gooding, the responsible partner at Howard Kennedy, the London solicitors acting for Kuwait Airways, says his client will do all it can to enforce the judgement. “Iraqi Airways is beginning to fly again,” he says. “They’ve got substantial assets in country, and we will have them.”

Kuwait Airways has been saddled with a heavy debt burden since the government forced it to take out a KD400 million ($1.4 billion) loan to replace the aircraft lost during the invasion. The airline now operates a fleet of 17 aircraft comprising five different types, but aims to reduce this to two.

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