11 Aug 2022

Aircraft barred from leaving Dublin Airport over alleged €4.2m debt stranding passengers and crew

Aircraft barred from leaving Dublin Airport over alleged €4.2m debt stranding passengers and crew

The High Court has made freezing orders preventing a passenger jet from leaving Dublin airport.

The orders were made in respect of a Moldovan Air Airbus A319 aircraft which arrived at the airport late on Tuesday night.

It was due to return to Chisinau International Airport in Moldova, and over 20 passengers as well as the aircraft's crew were stranded in Ireland as result of the order. 

The plane was frozen on foot of €4.2m arbitration award made in favour of a Romanian aircraft leasing firm called Just-US Air Srl against Compania Aeriana "Air Moldova" Srl.

The court heard the airline has had assets seized by Moldova's Agency for the recovery of Criminal Assets in 2019 as part of an investigation into alleged criminal activity including money laundering.

Air Moldova is the country's national airline, and was state-owned until it was privatised in 2018.

Represented by Martin Hayden SC and Martin Canny Bl Just-Srl claims that it obtained an international recognised, final and binding award of €4.2m following an arbitration regarding the lease of an aircraft, by a Romanian arbitrator.

Counsel said that the award has not been paid and it has sought to enforce the arbitration against Air Moldova in this jurisdiction where the airlines has a significant asset, namely the airline's Airbus aircraft.

The aircraft operates a passenger and limited cargo service between Moldova and Ireland.

Counsel said the applicant was seeking the freezing type orders against the aircraft because it fears that the airline may seek to remove the asset from the county and beyond the reach of the US Air Slr.

It said it had concerns arising out of several media reports concerning the Moldovan authority's criminal investigation into the airline and €35m asset seizure, which arose after the airline's privatisation.

The applicant has further concerns, about other reports that creditors of the airline have not been paid, and that last September one of the airline's other aircraft was detained in Turkey over an alleged failure to pay a $2m fuel bill.

The airline's owners have denied in media reports any wrongdoing and say that the investigations have not impacted on its commercial activity.

The freezing style orders preventing the aircraft leaving Dublin were granted on an ex-parte basis last week by Mr Justice David Barniville.

The media was prevented from reporting on the matter by the court until the aircraft had been secured, and the court documents were served on relevant parties, including the aircraft's captain. 

When the case returned before the court on Wednesday the judge lifted the reporting ban, and said that the various orders previously granted should remain in place.

The judge, in adjourning the case, praised the applicant's solicitors Crowley Millar for providing assistance to passengers and crew affected by the orders.

As well as seeking the freezing orders the applicant is also seeking permission to appoint a receiver over the aircraft, which it says has been leased by another entity to Air Moldova.

The case returns before the court later this month.

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