An interesting article that underlines the weight of Florida in maritime matters. In this article, a former naval officer in the French Navy moved to the United States, and was recruited by a Dubai company to build submarines. The story that follows is more James Bond-type than regular contract dispute….
By CURT ANDERSON, 02.14.11, http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/02/14/general-us-submarines-for-sultans_8308354.html
FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Trial began Monday in a dispute between a former French intelligence officer who started a recreational submarine business and a powerful Dubai conglomerate over their failed venture to build and sell the exotic undersea vessels around the world.
The competing lawsuits filed in Florida federal court by Dubai World and the spy-turned-sub builder, Herve Jaubert, came after Jaubert fled Dubai in early 2008. He claims his escape included disguising himself as a Muslim woman in a head-to-toe burka and using his diving skills to disable a patrol boat.
Dubai World, however, contends that Jaubert is no more than a sophisticated con man who misrepresented his ability to design and build submarines, overcharged the company for parts and didn’t live up to their contract. Dubai World contends it lost $31 million, including construction of an 80,000-square-foot factory to build the subs.
The company’s attorney said in an opening statement that Jaubert is “a self-described master manipulator” who made more than $5 million in salary and benefits through a series of financial schemes that ripped off Dubai World. The submarines never worked as promised, he added.
“Not a single product was ever sold. Not a single penny of revenue was received.”
Jaubert, meanwhile, claims he was held as a virtual captive in Dubai after authorities confiscated his passport in 2007 as their business dispute escalated. He contends he was threatened with torture and jail unless he paid the company about $1 million – money Jaubert felt he did not owe.
Jaubert’s attorney said the submarines did operate as promised and that top Dubai World executives even had a plan for lavish floating homes that would be accessible by their own subs, each to be built by Jaubert’s operation. Hess insisted that Jaubert was highly qualified and had sold at least four workable submarines in the past.
“He wanted to bring his submarines to the people. He wanted to bring the person to the underwater experience,” Hess said, adding that Jaubert committed no fraud. “He was about, and is about, building submarines. He’s not a finance guy.”
Each side seeks unspecified damages from the other. The trial before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez is expected to take about two weeks.
Jaubert described his Dubai experience in a recent book “Escape From Dubai,” in which he claims he used the Muslim clothing to move about undetected once he decided to flee. He said he used scuba gear to disable a patrol boat by cutting fuel lines, then motored into the ocean in a rubber dinghy to meet a waiting a sailboat.
Jaubert said he sailed first to India and then returned to Florida, where he filed suit against Dubai World. The company then filed a countersuit. Key parts of Jaubert’s suit have been dismissed, including his contention that Dubai World defamed him in public statements.
According to court papers, Jaubert spent 10 years as a French naval officer involved in covert operations, especially building surveillance devices. He trained as a combat diver and submarine pilot, using the latter skill after retiring from the military to begin a submarine charter business in 1996 in Puerto Rico.
Jaubert subsequently moved to Stuart, Fla., and started Seahorse Submarines. In 2003, Dubai World executives approached him about moving to Dubai, a part of the United Arab Emirates, to build submarines for the world’s super-wealthy and the charter tour industry. Dubai World handles a broad range of businesses and investments for Dubai’s government.
“I saw it as an opportunity to mass produce recreational submarines worldwide,” he said in a 2009 interview.