US citizen wins civil case in Afghan apex court
KABUL (Pajhwok): The Afghan apex court has ruled in favor of Omnia in the ongoing three-year-old legal battle between the company and the Q Kabul Hotel, owned by the Qasemi family, consistent with the unanimous rulings handed down by both the primary and appellate courts before on the matter.
Earlier, Omnia sued the hotel owners for two separate breaches of contract, gross negligence and criminal intent to do bodily harm, coercion, corruption, retaliation and oppression.
Omnia was hired by the Qasemi family to retrofit their building into an expatriate hotel, now called the Q Kabul Hotel, and manage the business.
Omnia’s initial contract with the owners was only for 60-days to handle all the marketing, admin, internal works and advise on all renovations and conversion works, security measures and engineering.
The actual construction works were carried out by the Qasemi’s. When the hotel owners fell 30-days behind schedule, Omnia extended the initial contract by 30-days at no additional charge, signing a second 5-year contract to manage the hotel during that timeframe and opened the hotel on Sep 1, 2012.
“The problems had begun even before we opened the hotel,” says Omnia owner and CEO Leah Tedrow. “They still had not paid us for the remaining amount on the first contract and paid us absolutely nothing on the second contract. We had to essentially sit outside their offices for them to meet with us, demanding and begging them to complete their work so we could open the hotel on 1 September.”
The US citizen said the hotel owners only ordered the kitchen equipment 3-days before opening, despite their request to order it a month before and they were still installing it on opening day.
“It was then we began to hear the rumors they had no money, were in serious debt and had signed our contracts knowing they could not pay us. They were doing everything on credit and favor all over town and it was a mess.”
Twenty-eight days after the hotel opened and the signing of the 5-year management contract with Omnia, the Qasemi’s issued a termination letter demanding that Omnia vacate the premises in 18-hours with no explanation, violating the terms of the contract.
“We had 28 guests in the hotel at the time, with conferences scheduled with several NGOs and embassies. We tried to reason with the Qasemi’s but then found out they had given Etisalat a tour of the building and had been offered $4.2 million up front to lease the building for three-years, even though our projections for the hotel had net incomes at around $6 million plus per annum - but they wanted the lump sum, with complete disregard to the current contract and guests, some of whom had just moved in on 12-month leases.”
He said they met with Etisalat official and showed them the contract, but they had no idea about the contract, hotel guests and leases, nor it needed a further $1.2 million in renovations for the entire building to be functional.
“They (Etisalat) had been told we were ‘employees’ working for the Qasemi’s during the tour and that the building was fully operational. They were livid they had been lied to, especially as it had just been approved by their board, and immediately wrote to the Qasemi’s pulling the deal off the table and refusing any further business dealings. Once that happened, it got pretty western,” says Tedrow.
Court documents show the Qasemi’s then began a campaign of terror against OMNIA staff and guests, removing plumbing so there was no hot water in the hotel, refusing food deliveries, draining all the kitchen cooking gas, changing internet passwords to deny them outside communications and access, and issuing death threats to OMNIA staff.
“We had to send all of our female Afghan staff home as the Qasemi’s began threatening them and their families, and then they began the death threats against the expat staff and trying to have me arrested every morning.”
She said the Qasemi’s openly bribed police and would wait outside the courts and Attorney General’s office trying to bribe the people he had just spoken to, to have the case thrown out or delayed.
“I spent 15-hours a day going from court to court, CID, and ministry to ministry office, to get help and justice. We were living on the grounds at the time and I remember having to post a security guard outside my room and sneak out the back into another room, just in case they tried to break in and do harm.”
After a month of constant harassment, attempted arrests and threats, Tedrow said he was finally able to have the Deputy Minister of Interior issue an order of protection and no arrest, valid throughout PD 107.
“The threats stopped, and we finally came to an agreement to let it play out in the courts.”
OMNIA then engaged the help of the late Dr Azizullah Ludin, then Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, who assigned an attorney to the case for oversight because of the corrupt practices employed by the Qasemi’s and stated at the time that he was, “deeply ashamed of the behavior and practices of my fellow countrymen, especially in the way they have treated a foreign woman who is a guest in our country.”
The primary, appellate and Supreme Court unanimously ruled the Qasemi’s were in breach of contract on both counts and were ordered to pay the remaining sum owed on the first contract but denied the claim of over $500,000 owed to OMNIA on the second contract, stating the monies owed to all vendors and suppliers on the second contract was the responsibly of the Qasemi’s and would not go to OMNIA.
“We lost a great deal of money on the second ruling, as many of our staff salaries and expenditures were rolled up with that claim,” says Tedrow.
“But we won on principle and that’s really more important to me - setting the record straight. Unfortunately, all the local suppliers owed money, will have to go directly to the Qasemi’s to collect or sue - but at least the path has been cleared for them through our case.”
She said the Qasemi’s were refusing to pay them the court ordered amount, reinforcing their lack of integrity and continued disregard for the rule of law.
“We are now in the process of bringing criminal charges for failure to pay the court mandate, with the help of the Huquq department, who are charged with ensuring implementation of all court verdicts.”
The court case has shed light on gaps in the system for expatriates operating and doing business in Afghanistan.
“The hardest part, in the beginning, was not knowing where to go for help. There were no ‘guidelines’ or ‘how to guides’ on how to pursue a civil or criminal case, for expats in Afghanistan,” she said.
“That was when I later found a few unsung heroes at the US Embassy who helped me through this, in spite of the ‘no involvement’ policies of the Embassy at the time, and why I began work with OSAC to help create some mechanisms for expats doing business here.”
Omnia continues the pursuit of finalizing the case verdict and implementation through the Afghan Judicial system. “We will never stop until this is done and we will leave no stone unturned. I just wish Dr Ludin, who was one of the greatest champions throughout the ordeal, was here to share in our victory.”
Omnia was a turnkey life support, marketing and business solution services provider in conflict, post-conflict and developing nations. The company no longer operates in Afghanistan and has since been reconsolidated.
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.