Ex-chief sues KIO

The former managing director of the London-based Kuwait Investment Office (KIO) is suing his former employers in the High Court for $60m (pounds 40m) in a case linked to the collapse of its $5bn investment in the Spanish Grupo Torras four years ago.

The action, by ex-investment chief Fouad Jaffar, will bring the KIO's parent, the Kuwait Investment Authority, into London litigation over the affair for the first time.

It is also a double blow for Kuwait, which last week saw the US Congress set up hearings into its business practices despite the help it gave in the Gulf War.

On 19 June, a House of Representatives sub-committee will conduct hearings into the issue, which has been sparked by fury over loss of a valuable power contract by the Texas-based Wing Group, allegedly because under US law it was unable to pay the obligatory "commissions" to secure the deal.

"We expect that legislation will be introduced to provide for the formation of a US Government Interdepartmental Task Force that would be directed to study the entire range of US relations with Kuwait," congressional documents, obtained by the Independent on Sunday, say.

"It would make recommendations to the president and the Congress on the continuation and extent of our military assistance and overall relations with the State of Kuwait, including the IRS (tax) treatment of Kuwaiti investments in the US," the hearing notice adds.

Washington lawyers say Spanish-Italian packaging group Sarrio, owned by Andrea Bonomi, a London-based US citizen, will also press for restitution of $400m owed by Grupo Torras.

Kuwait's Spanish empire collapsed in 1992, amid allegations of fraud and secret political payments during the Gulf War.

Torras is suing former KIO executives, including Mr Jaffar, in London and Madrid over the collapse. Both the KIO and KIA have so far sought to avoid direct involvement in the case.

Details of Mr Jaffar's counter-claim have emerged from arguments admitted by the High Court and expose the KIA to further revelations about its worldwide investment dealings.

It has already been under investigation by the Inland Revenue over pounds 600m of allegedly illegal tax rebates gained after the sale of a stake in British Petroleum in the late 1980s.

Mr Jaffar's claims relate to two payments: $53m paid by his personal foundation to buy shares on Kuwait's behalf in the Torras-owned group Prima, and $7.5m of bonuses for the purchase of BP shares in 1987.

A KIA spokesman last week refused to comment on the claims. The KIA did, however, state that an inquiry by the Kuwaiti Attorney-General into KIA president Ali Raschaid al-Bader's handling of a recent privatisation issue had been closed. There was also no truth to suggestions made in Kuwaiti circles that Mr Bader or his family had bought shares in the Nationalised Industries Company before the sell-off, the spokesman said.

Mr Bader came in after Torras' collapse and will see out his full term until March 1997.