Bizarre legal drama at air show
PARIS, France -- Two Russian jet fighters took off from Paris on Friday, eluding judicial officials waiting to impound them in a bizarre legal drama at the world's biggest air show.
The officials were trying to seize the jets as part of a protracted legal battle between Russia and Swiss-based trading company Noga over unpaid debts.
A Russian ship was impounded last year at an international boat race in France.
The Sukhoi SU-30 fighter jet and the Mig-AT trainer jet took off around 1500 local time from the Paris Air Show, heading back to Russia.
"The process (of seizure) was not completed," Edmond Marchegay, head of the show's organizing committee, told the Associated Press.
He explained that air traffic controllers gave the planes permission to leave, and they did so.
Russian officials were reported to be furious at Noga.
"This is a pure provocation. They have done everything they could to spoil the Paris air show," Dimitri Kirizliev, a Russian Embassy spokesman in Paris, told AP.
"This is a pure media ploy to drum up attention."
The French Justice Ministry said it had no comment on the day's events.
The attempted seizure was just the latest chapter in the dispute between Russia and Noga, which says Moscow owes it $62 million from oil-for-food deals signed in 1991, the year the Soviet Union dissolved, and 1992.
Kirizliev said the incident would not hurt bilateral ties.
The French Foreign Ministry confirmed the incident but called it "a judicial procedure which France is not a party to.
In July 2000, Noga managed to have a renowned Russian sailing ship impounded when it came to France to take part in an international regatta. The "Sedov" was finally allowed to sail from the northwestern port of Brest after a court ruled it could not be held.
Last May, a court froze the accounts of Russia's embassy in Paris, its trade representation and its delegation to UNESCO at Noga's request. The move left the embassy struggling to pay its bills for three months.
Russia successfully appealed, arguing that the freeze violated treaties on diplomatic rights and immunity.
Noga, headed by businessman Nessim Gaon, saw its bid to recoup its money get a boost in 1997 when an arbitration court in Stockholm, Sweden, backed its claim.
Air show organizer Marchegay told AP he had never dreamed such a thing would happen at the air show.
"The Sukhoi is a beautiful plane. The French are happy to see it. I am sorry for the people who will come here tomorrow and not see the plane," he told reporters at a news conference after the planes had departed.
Russia's Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin told Interfax that he believed Noga was acting against his country because of the "catastrophic financial state of the company itself."
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