Findings of contempt of court have been made in the latest stage of the long-running Masri litigation. The case involves one of the most determined campaigns of evasion of the consequences of an English judgment which has ever been seen. In 2006 two companies in the Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) Group, a construction group based in Athens owned by Arab billionaire Said Khoury, were held liable by the Commercial Court in London to Mr. Munib Masri, a Jordanian businessman, in respect of a share in the proceeds of an oil concession in Yemen. The sums now due pursuant to those judgments exceed $75 million. The English Court appointed receivers of the major assets of both Defendant companies.
The contempt proceedings concerned allegations that the companies breached the receivership orders and hid or assigned away assets. The Companies said they were ordered not to comply with the English orders by a Court in Lebanon, orders which Mr. Masri said that the Companies themselves procured via other Khoury family members. The Companies were represented by a Chancery QC, a criminal QC, a Professor of international law and several junior counsel. The contempt hearing took place over 4 weeks in January and February 2011, making it in all likelihood the largest and lengthiest contempt application ever heard in the Commercial Court.
In his Judgment of 5 May 2011, Clarke J held that that campaign had involved numerous contempts of the English Court. The judgment establishes the important point that it is not in itself a defence to contempt that compliance with the order of the English Court would require the party subject to that order to breach an order of a foreign Court. Clarke J went further and held that in the circumstances of this case, the possibility of breaching a foreign order did not even amount to mitigation, given that the foreign blocking orders in question, including the appointment of judicial administrators, had all been self-inflicted as part of the evasion campaign: "A party cannot suffer himself to be bound in chains, from which he could, if he wished, release himself and rely upon those chains as a restraint which should mitigate his failure to comply with the orders of the court". Clarke J adjourned the question of sanction to provide an opportunity for the Defendants to purge their contempts, but indicated that fines in the order of millions of dollars were otherwise likely to be imposed. In all, nine allegations of contempt were found proven in whole, one in part and three others found unproven.
The judgment is here.
Colin West, instructed by Simmons and Simmons, appeared for Mr. Masri.