ECONOMY

Uzans win Swiss court ruling

ISTANBUL/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Turkish mobile phone operator Telsim, locked in a legal battle with phone makers Motorola and Nokia, said on Thursday it had won a Swiss court ruling to unfreeze its owners’ assets in Switzerland. Telsim also said brothers Cem and Hakan Uzan, leading members of the family that controls the company, had resigned from the board to protect the firm from what they say is a political vendetta by the Turkish government. «The Zurich District Court today ruled against Motorola in its attempt to freeze Uzan assets. The court lifted all remaining Swiss freezing orders that were in place against assets of the Uzan family,» Telsim said in a statement. In late July, a New York federal judge ordered the Uzans, one of Turkey’s richest families, to pay Motorola more than $4.26 billion for siphoning off huge sums of money in a bogus financing scheme. In a statement, Motorola said the latest Swiss court ruling contradicted a Swiss Federal Supreme Court decision on July 31 that kept a lock on up to $800 million in Uzan family assets in Switzerland pending enforcement of the US court action. «Today’s decision by a lower Swiss court is not only contrary to a recent ruling by Switzerland’s highest court, but also largely irrelevant,» Motorola said. The US telecommunications equipment supplier said the latest ruling ran counter to court decisions against the Uzans in Britain, France, Germany, the United States and offshore tax havens. Nokia has also sued Telsim in the United States, although Hakan Uzan told Reuters on Tuesday that Telsim was still in arbitration talks with the Finnish company in Switzerland. Uzan assets have been frozen in several countries as a result of the cases. The Uzans deny any wrongdoing and say any dispute should be settled under Swiss jurisdiction under the terms of the contracts between the three firms. Telsim said the Zurich court ruling echoed decisions by the US Appeal Court in March and the Geneva Court of Justice in July, which found that Motorola had not proved it had suffered damage and should submit to Swiss arbitration. Motorola last week cited a ruling by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, dismissing four appeals that could have unfrozen hundreds of millions of dollars for the Uzan family. But a lawyer for the Uzans told Reuters the Swiss federal court had simply established a principle that a foreign freezing order could be applied in Switzerland, whereas Thursday’s ruling specifically rejected any freeze on the Uzans’ Swiss assets. The Uzans are also under pressure at home, where a crackdown by Turkish authorities has cost them control of two power companies and two banks, losing them the chance to buy a state petrochemicals firm at what was widely seen as a bargain price. The Uzans accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of persecuting them to damage the populist opposition Youth Party, which Cem leads. «The Uzan companies make a huge contribution to the Turkish economy and in attacking them the AKP government is damaging the Turkish economy,» the statement quoted Hakan Uzan as saying. «We want to prevent the risk of further damage and so are stepping down from the Board of Telsim.»