US District Judge Katherine Forrest has ordered a controversial Nigerian businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim, to pay over $10 million for failing to meet his obligations on two aircraft he leased for the operations of his Nigerian air traffic business that is now grounded. Mr. Ibrahim had personally guaranteed the leased aircraft on behalf of his defunct airline, Air Nigeria.
SaharaReporters obtained a ruling by Justice Forrest in which she ordered the shady Nigerian businessman to pay up the initial $8 million owed to Aersale Inc., the owners of the leased aircraft. In addition, the judge ruled that Mr. Ibrahim must pay interests on the lease as well as legal fees.
Delivered in the form of a summary judgment, the ruling criticized the Nigerian businessman for seeking to find loopholes to enable him to disown the lease guarantee. She ruled that his legal schemes could not invalidate the lease agreement.
Mr. Ibrahim had challenged the authenticity of the lease document he had personally signed on behalf of Air Nigeria. He claimed that some pages of the lease document were not initialed. He also claimed that the passport number used on the document was from one of his expired passports. In addition, he tried to shift the blame for his business decisions on the moribund airline’s former managing director, Kinfe Kassanye, claiming that the former MD misled him into signing the lease.
But an unimpressed Judge Forrest dismissed Mr. Ibrahim's pleadings, describing the case as a straightforward issue of breach of contract. She added that Mr. Ibrahim did not deny that he signed the lease and was well aware of its implications.
The judge also denied Mr. Ibrahim's request to have Air Nigeria named as the main defendant in the case.
The ruling has been certified, and Judge Forrest has asked the plaintiffs, Aersale, Inc., to file papers in the form of a motion detailing the full scope of the company’s interests and costs. The firm’s filings are expected to include how much it cost the company to hire attorneys to file and pursue the lawsuit against Mr. Ibrahim.
Air Nigeria collapsed a few days after a Dana Airways flight crashed in a Lagos suburb, killing all passengers on board as well as some people on the ground.
A whistleblower who worked for Air Nigeria, John Nnorom, provided SaharaReporters with detailed information of the depth of the airline’s financial and technical crises. Mr. Nnorom and other anonymous staff sources told SaharaReporters that Air Nigeria would have sustained a tragic air crash because Mr. Ibrahim was more interested in carting away profits than in maintaining the aircraft in his airline’s fleet. They also revealed that he owed numerous service maintenance providers and lessors huge sums of debt.
The revelations compelled the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority to revoke the airline’s air worthiness certificate, leading to its collapse.
A New York-based lawyer told SaharaReporters that Aersale, Inc. would likely seek the seizure of Mr. Ibrahim's private jet as part of a broader strategy to recouping debts owed to them.