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As Dalian Shenghai Ocean Fishery Co. wins legal battle…

Lawyer Umaru Napoleon Koroma says judgment will boost investor confidence

August 11, 2016 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff

Erudite private legal practitioner at Brewah & Co Chambers, Umaru Napoleon Koroma Esq., has said that a judgment delivered by Hon. Mr. Justice Desmond B. Edwards [Justice of the Appeal Court] in respect of a litigation initiated by Madam Abi Haruna against Chinese fishery company, Dalian Shenghai Ocean, would boost investor confidence in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone is ranked favourably as one of the best enabling environments within the sub-region to do business, with the World Bank ranking the country among the best investor friendly destinations in the region. Also, the government’s Agenda for Prosperity assures investor protection against unscrupulous business persons.

Thus, the respected barrister and solicitor of the High Court of Sierra Leone hold s the view that, his client’s successful pleading of a counterclaim against Madam Haruna was a significant declaration by the Commercial & Admiralty Division of the High Court of Sierra Leone that it is not business as usual and that the reforms in the judiciary, as espoused by the current Chief Justice, are well in motion.

President of Dalian Shenghai Ocean Fishery Co., Mr Yuguo Chu, signed a “Co-operation Agreement” with Monza SL Ltd/Madam Abi Haruna on 1 April, 2015, which among other things entitled the Chinese company to use a jetty, cold room, and warehouse located at Horse Fishing Company in Jui, for fifteen years, with an option for extension. According to the agreement, Madam Haruna had contractual obligation to negotiate with Horse Fishing Company for the use of their facility and ensure smooth operations once the Chinese company lands their fleet of eight fishing vessels in Sierra Leone.

When Madam Haruna and her company failed to perform their part of the agency agreement, Dalian Shenghai wrote them on 31 August, 2015 to complain: “Right now our fleet cannot discharge fish at Horse Fishing and the goods which store at its warehouse cannot take out on time, all these cause great trouble for our fishing activities and financial loss. Monza SL Limited has not fulfilled its obligations and responsibilities on some issues stated in the agreement…[sic]”.

The above notwithstanding, Monza SL, through their solicitor S.M. Sesay, sued the Chinese company and claimed the whooping sum of US$33,756,870 as money due and owed to it in respect of the “provision of license, monetary payments for 8 fishing vessels and for other services …in connection with the defendant’s fishing business in Sierra Leone.”

They also claimed damages for breach of contract, interest, another US$26,640,000, any further others by the court, plus costs.

The defendant company, represented by Lawyer Umaru Napoleon Koroma, vehemently denied the claims and filed a defence and counterclaim, adding that they had completed all remunerations and obligations to the plaintiff and that more significantly, the latter had breached the co-operation agreement, which action left them with no option but to terminate the contract.

Also, the defendant added that Madam Haruna was under contractual obligation to compensate them the sum of US$1,000,000 and a refund of US$60,000.

Meanwhile, after efforts to negotiate an amicable way out of the legal battle failed through alternative dispute resolution, the case went to trial. And in his watershed judgment on 4 August, 2016, the learned trial judge categorically noted that “…the defendant [Dalian Shenghai] has proved that the termination of the contract [between her and Monza Co. Ltd.] was not only justified but lawful meaning that the plaintiff’s case against the defendant fails.”

Accordingly, the judge refused all the claims prayed for by Madam Haruna and her company, save for an award of US$40,000 for “final balance of account.”

Justice Edwards added that “the defendant is entitled to the equivalent of the sum of US$60,000.00 as money/initial payment for the construction of Dormitory and dwelling house for which nothing was done to date.”

However, he said both parties are at liberty to set off, in which case the sum of US$20,000 should be due and owing to the defendant, excluding interest due on the amount from the date of the action to judgment.

In addition, the judge ordered that general damages against the plaintiff for breach of contract should be assessed, while costs in favour of the defendant should be borne by Monza Fishing Co. Ltd.

Dalian Shenghai has a crew of 200 on their eight vessels in Sierra Leone’s territorial waters, 180 of them being Sierra Leoneans, and only 20 Chinese. The least unskilled crew member receives a monthly salary of Le800,000 (approx. US$130), with other skilled crew members receiving significantly more, thus boosting the local economy.

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