A lawsuit seeking to expose a secret defense pact between America and Kuwait was abruptly dropped yesterday after the Kuwaiti government signaled its displeasure with the attempt to make the agreement public.
The voluntary dismissal of the Freedom of Information Act case came on the same day The New York Sun published the first news report on the lawsuit, which was filed last Friday.
"Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I had not been aware of it," Kuwait's ambassador in Washington, Salem Al-Sabah, told the Sun in a brief interview yesterday. "Such agreements are classified. … I don't think such agreements should be publicized."
The law firm that filed the suit, Hogan & Hartson, did so in its own name and did not explain its interest in the information. However, the attempt to nail down the terms of the 1991 Defense Cooperation Agreement with Kuwait and an extension of the pact in 2001 seems to be an outgrowth of an attempt to prosecute the manager of a Kuwaiti firm, Ali Hijazi, for allegedly making a $1 million payoff in connection with a scheme to sell overpriced fuel for use by the American military.
Hogan & Hartson is defending Mr. Hijazi in the criminal case and has argued that the charges against him should be dropped because provisions in the defense pact limit American jurisdiction over incidents in Kuwait to actions by American military personnel, American civilians, and employees of companies working directly for the American military. Mr. Hijazi is a long-term resident of Kuwait who was born in Lebanon. His firm, La Nouvelle General Trading & Contracting Company, sold fuel to Kellogg, Brown & Root, which was at the time a subsidiary of Halliburton Energy Services and responsible for supplying American military bases in Kuwait.
Kuwait has declined to extradite Mr. Hijazi and repeatedly has asked the Justice Department to drop the charges against him, which were filed in 2005. "The contract between the company Hijazi was leading and KBR was signed in Kuwait and was implemented in Kuwait," Mr. Al-Sabah said. "We believe if there's any problem, it's in the jurisdiction of the Kuwaiti courts to look into this."
Asked if Kuwait was working with the businessman to defeat the case, the ambassador said, "We're not cooperating with Mr. Hijazi. We're looking at it purely from a jurisdictional point of view." Several attorneys for the Lebanese native did not return calls seeking comment for this article.
Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to ignore Mr. Hijazi's bid to throw out the charges until he comes to America and appears in court. The American KBR employee who allegedly inflated the fuel costs and took the payoff, Jeff Mazon, has maintained his innocence and is scheduled to go to trial separately in April.