UK court orders Kansas City aviation tycoon to pay $4.1M to UAE emirate

AP News Staff
May 26, 2020 - 9:29 am
Farhad Azima in his home in Kansas City, Missouri

Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star via AP, File

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A British court has order an Iranian-American aviation magnate and gunrunner tied to the CIA and the Iran-Contra scandal to pay a sheikhdom in the United Arab Emirates over $4.1 million over a series of business disputes.

The ruling on Friday against Farhad Azima caps a yearslong legal dispute stretching across the world between the Kansas City, Missouri resident and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah.

While ruling in the emirate’s favor, the High Court’s judgement also paints Ras al-Khaimah as the Wild West of frontier investing, with an alleged $2 billion separate embezzlement case and detaining people without charges.

The Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund that sued Azima, welcomed the ruling.  Even Ras al-Khaimah's ruler, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, provided a witness statement for the proceeding against Azima, the judgement said.

"The government of Ras al-Khaimah is continuing to recover stolen assets of the emirate," it said in a statement. "It is committed to bringing to justice those who have misappropriated public funds from the emirate and its people. This decision is another victory in this fight against fraud."

Ras al-Khaimah is in the far northern reaches of the U.S.-allied UAE.  It borders Oman and is near the Strait of Hormuz.

The lawsuit stemmed from Azima's work in the emirate to develop a potential cargo airline and pilot training center there, as well as to sell a hotel it owned in Tbilisi, Georgia, and get it to buy a surveillance aircraft.

The airline and aircraft deal fell apart, as did the hotel sale that somehow saw three Iranians suspected of having ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard get involved.
 


 

The emirate and Azima fell out in claims and counterclaims. Azima then warned he'd launch a publicity campaign against the emirate over human rights abuses, an effort the ruling described as intending "to draw attention to actual cases of detention and illegality, not fabricated cases." Azima also allegedly sought to incriminate members of the ruling family with criminals like "Latin American drug cartel figures."

The order also describes Sheikh Saud as hiring a private investigator in January 2015 over fears a former official accused of stealing $2 billion had partnered with Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the emirate's former crown prince who was later stripped of his position.

During the dispute, Azima saw gigabytes-worth of his emails hacked and leaked onto the internet. Those emails included Azima's dealing with former CIA officers in a private security firm. One project was a scheme, apparently on behalf of a Kuwaiti ruling family member, to install "new, bolder, more energetic leadership" in the Gulf nation. A top Wall Street Journal reporter was fired  over his involvement with that security firm.

Azima built Global International Airways, a charter and cargo carrier, in the 1970s. The carrier was initially intended to transport cattle from Nebraska to Iran, until the U.S. cut diplomatic ties after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Soon the flights were filled with mysterious cargo, including arms.

In 1979, 50 tons of arms on one of Global Airways' planes were found in Tunisia. Azima said the flight had been forced to land at a Tunisian military base to take the weapons onboard instead of medical supplies destined for Nicaraguan refugees in Costa Rica.

Seven years later, another one of his planes — purportedly leased to his brother — carried 23 tons of weapons into Tehran as part of the Iran-Contra affair, the scheme of secret U.S. arms sales to Iran to pay for illegal U.S. support for Nicaraguan rebels. He again denied involvement.

Azima later won multimillion-dollar contracts with the U.S. military.

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