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Monday, February 22, 2010

AG denies ducking US lawsuit

The Antigua & Barbuda government is being accused of refusing to accept the summons serving notice of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit filed by former Stanford investors and blanking the victims’ efforts to resolve the dispute. But the country’s Attorney General Justin Simon has denied knowledge of either effort.

The allegation has been made by attorney-at-law Peter Morgenstern who is representing the victims in the lawsuit filed in the US state of Texas last year, in which they allege that the government was Allen Stanford’s partner in crime. They’re asking for up to US $24 billion in compensation – three times what the disgraced billionaire allegedly swindled.

The government has to be served with the official documents in order to respond to the lawsuit and under the Hague Service Convention to which both the US and Antigua & Barbuda are signatory, there are specified procedures required to formally serve papers in cross-border civil or commercial matters.

The attorney general has told The Daily OBSERVER that the government has not received any documents. However, Morgenstern insisted in an interview with this newspaper that the authorities here simply haven’t been receptive.

“The government of Antigua & Barbuda, to this day as far as I understand, has refused to even accept formal service of the complaint that we filed and has refused to step forward in a court of law and defend the allegations or put forward their official position with respect to the allegations that we made in the complaint,” he claimed.

“We’ve tried on numerous occasions through appropriate entities to formally deliver that summons and complaint to the government and they’ve refused to accept it. One would think if the government was serious and really believed in their position that they would be willing to come forward in a formal way and provide an answer in an appropriate court of law and let’s have a judge decide the legal issues that we’ve raised.”

When asked to identify the individual or individuals on whom attempts were made to serve the documents, Morgenstern said he would have to get the details from the international process server who was hired to deliver the papers.

Documents can be served through a state’s designated Central Authority which, according to the website for the Hague Conference on Private International Law, is the Registrar of the High Court in the case of Antigua & Barbuda. Provision can also be made for service via international registered mail or directly through an agent in the destination state.

Research by The Daily OBSERVER has found that under Article 13 of the Hague Service Convention, where a request for service complies with the terms of the Convention, the state addressed may refuse to comply “only if it deems that compliance would infringe its sovereignty or security”.

“It may not refuse to comply solely on the ground that, under its internal law, it claims exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action or that its internal law would not permit the action upon which the application is based. The Central Authority shall, in case of refusal, promptly inform the applicant and state the reasons for the refusal,” it adds.

Article 14 indicates that “difficulties which may arise in connection with the transmission of judicial documents for service shall be settled through diplomatic channels”.

Morgenstern has declined to reveal what the next course of action would be, saying only that the legal team “will continue our efforts and I’m confident that at some point we will effectuate official service on the government and we’ll move forward with the lawsuit.” The attorney has further claimed that the Antigua & Barbuda government has ignored attempts to settle the matter out of court.

“We’ve made several attempts to reach out to the Antiguan government to try to have a dialogue and see whether we can clear up some of these issues and some of this controversy and we’ve had no success in doing so, but it’s something that we would certainly be willing to have a discussion about,” he explained.

When pressed about who had been contacted and when and how the contact had been attempted, the attorney said he “was not in a position to reveal who was approached.”

Questioned after the interview with Morgenstern, the Attorney General said he was not aware of the efforts Morgenstern claimed had been made.

“I’m not aware of any such documents being served or about anyone being contacted,” Simon told this newspaper, suggesting that the attorney should provide the names of persons with whom contact had been attempted and dates and times when those efforts were made.

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