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French Version

Telecom experts urge Lebanon to comply with international arbitrations (Daily Star)

Independent lawyers and telecom experts warned on Thursday that Lebanon's credibility will be at stake if it declined to comply with the decisions of international arbitrations. "The Lebanese government cannot simply refrain from overlooking decisions by international arbitrators because this will affect the credit rating of the country," corporate lawyer Akram Azoury said.

He added that countries will avoid granting loans and credits to Lebanon if the country is placed on the blacklist.

Azoury was commenting on Telecommunications Minister Jean Louis Qordahi's decision to appeal a verdict by an international arbitrator in Geneva.

The arbitrators asked the government to pay the giant French company Francetelecom $266 million for terminating a Built Operate Transfer (BOT) contract two years before its official expiry.

Qordahi said that the arbitrators failed to take into consideration a demand by the Lebanese authorities asking Francetelecom to pay $300 million for violating the BOT terms.

"The government cannot ask an international firm operating in the country to pay these bonds because all disputes must be settled in a neutral country," Azoury said.

Azoury is not familiar with the case between the Ministry of Telecommunications and Francetelecom but noted that the government can appeal the case to other courts outside Lebanon.

"The court can only accept an appeal if there are serious violations in the original court order."

Sources said that the government has spent millions of dollars for lawyers fees, adding that it useless to keep spending more money if the chances of winning the appeal are minimal.

A leading telecommunications expert told The Daily Star that the arbitration decision is final and mandatory.

"The arbitration decision is now mandatory and Francetelecom has therefore all the rights to claim for the amounts it has judicially gained with this decision.

"The Lebanese government has no legal means to oppose an eventual action by the French company in this regard," said Riad Bahsoun, the general manager of Telecommunication Information Technology.

He added that the interest of the parties today is to adopt fair behavior and to amicably settle this dispute.

"On one hand, the ministry should look carefully and seriously at all means and actions aiming to engage a reasonable dialogue with the French company. Nobody, and in particular Francetelecom, should take the arbitration decision as a mean of taking vengeance against Lebanon."

It is not in the strategic long-term interest of the French company to treat the government as an enemy regardless of what happened with the "cellular issue" in June 1999, the date when the government asked Cellis and LibanCell to pay $300 million each for violating the contracts," Bahsoun said. Qordahi said Wednesday this case will not affect Lebanon's good relations with France.

Beirut 27-02-2005
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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