A Saudi prince and a Vienna contractor have settled a lawsuit over renovations to the prince's home, avoiding a final ruling on diplomatic immunity that almost certainly would have gone the prince's way, according to a report by the Washington Post.
Fred Jaraha, the contractor, sued Prince Salman bin Sultan in April after the prince refused to pay the final $75,000 of an estimated $300,000 bill for extensive home remodeling.
Salman's attorney said the prince had a legitimate dispute with Jaraha over the quality of the work, but instead of litigating the issue, he raised the defense that the prince was immune from lawsuits under the Vienna Convention, an international treaty that exempts diplomats from the jurisdiction of local courts.
Legal experts quoted by the Post say the treaty probably allows diplomats to avoid paying debts, whether legitimate or not. Governments feel the immunity is a necessary trade-off to prevent their envoys from being harassed in other countries. And Jaraha's case landed in front of US District Judge TS Ellis III in Alexandria, whose 1995 ruling in favor of a Jordanian diplomat on another claim of immunity is cited as one of the definitive legal interpretations of the Vienna Convention.
But at a hearing on Jaraha's suit this month, Ellis pointedly asked Salman's attorney, Michael S. Dingman, why the prince was "hiding behind immunity." Dingman said the prince was merely exercising an international legal right, but Ellis told him that "honorable people don't claim immunity when the dispute is over the timing or quality of the work. They litigate that dispute. And if they lose, honorable people pay their debts."
Ellis urged both sides to settle before he issued a final ruling. And this week, they did, according to Jaraha's attorney, Richard B. Lankford. Lankford said the terms of the settlement were confidential.
The dispute was resolved "without any admission of liability by Prince Salman," according to a statement worked out by the two sides. Acute Construction, Jaraha's company, "believes that the settlement with Prince Salman is fair and that he has treated Acute reasonably in resolving this matter," the statement said.
Dingman said Salman had tried to settle the lawsuit, before it was filed and after. "It was never a situation where he tried to avoid his obligations as presented," Dingman said. "He's happy it's resolved."
Jaraha did not return phone calls, but Lankford said, "I was glad to see that Prince Salman took the judge's words to heart and decided to do the honorable thing." – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)