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REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA v. BICKFORD

March 24, 1992

THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA and THE LIBERIAN MINING CORPORATION, INC., Plaintiffs, against NATHANIEL J. BICKFORD, Esq. and LANKENAU, KOVNER & BICKFORD, a partnership organized under the laws of New York, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KENNETH CONBOY

 KENNETH CONBOY, DISTRICT JUDGE:

 Shortly before the civil war in Liberia that began in December, 1989, plaintiff, the wholly state-owned Liberian Mining Corporation ("LIMINCO"), retained as United States legal counsel defendant Lankenau, Kovner and Bickford ("Bickford"). After June, 1989, Bickford also acted as U.S. counsel to plaintiff, the Government of Liberia, in connection with mining matters at the request of the Minister of Justice of Liberia. In its capacity as counsel to the Liberian Government, Bickford received certain property on behalf of the Republic of Liberia. Plaintiffs allege that such property includes certain monies amounting to $ 1,681,000 paid to LIMINCO on June 20 and 21, 1990.

 In their action against Bickford, plaintiffs move for judgment on Counts I and II on the pleadings, or, in the alternative, partial summary judgment. Count I of plaintiffs' action demands an accounting of certain chattel allegedly in the hands of defendants. Count II of the plaintiffs' action is for the recovery of this chattel.

 The plaintiffs are represented in this action by counsel to the Interim Government for National Unity of the Republic of Liberia ("Interim Government"). Claiming to be the legitimate representative of the Republic of Liberia and LIMINCO, the National Patriotic Reconstruction Assembly Government ("NPRAG") moves to intervene in this action.

 Bickford moves to stay plaintiffs' action and to dismiss Count III pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In Count III, plaintiffs seek damages for defendants' alleged conversion of the chattel.

 I. Facts

 A. Background

 The following account of the political status of Liberia is derived from the statement of interest in this case filed by the United States Government:

 In December, 1989, a civil war broke out in Liberia when forces from a group calling itself the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, led by Charles Taylor, invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast to attack targets in northeastern Liberia. The Armed Forces of Liberia, under the direction of then-President Samuel K. Doe, sent troops to confront the insurgents. Over the next several months, the insurgency spread throughout Liberia.

 In August 1990, Liberian political parties and interest groups held a conference in Banjul, The Gambia, in order to support the implementation of a peace plan proposed by the Economic Community of West African States ("ECOWAS") Standing Mediation Committee. The United States has supported the implementation of the ECOWAS peace plan.

 The Interim Government was formed at the Banjul conference, and Amos Sawyer was named as president of the Interim Government. In late August or early September, 1990, the Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group ("ECOMOG") sent a five-nation West African peace-keeping force to Monrovia.

 On September 12, 1990, President Doe was killed and his government collapsed. The Interim Government entered Monrovia in late November 1990, and in coordination with ECOMOG, began gradually to assert administrative and political control over the ravaged city.

 From March 15 to April 20, 1991, an All-Liberia National Conference was held in Virginia, Liberia, pursuant to the ECOWAS peace plan. Liberian political parties, interest groups, and rival factions, as well as observers from the ECOWAS Standing Mediation Committee, United Nations, Organizations of African Unity, diplomatic corps, and international press, attended the conference. Although delegates representing NPRAG walked out of the conference on March 27, 1991, the conference continued to its conclusion on April 20, at which time it reelected Amos Sawyer as president of the Interim Government.

 Throughout 1991, the Interim Government represented Liberia at meetings of ECOWAS, the Organization of National Unity, and the United Nations. President Sawyer travelled to the United States in September and October of 1991, where he was received by the Acting Secretary of State in Washington and, as Liberia's Head of State, delivered an address to the United Nations' General Assembly in New York.

 The Court notes that throughout 1991 in at least three lawsuits, the United States has filed statements of interest pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 517 stating that it was consistent with the foreign policy of the United States for the Interim Government to present claims and defenses on behalf of the Government of Liberia in those disputes. Plaintiffs' Exhibits A, B, and G. The Court also notes that on November 24, 1986, Her Excellency Eugenia A. Wordsworth-Stevenson presented her credentials to the President of the United States, and that, according to counsel, she has continued to be accredited as the Ambassador of the Republic of Liberia to the United States. Plaintiffs' Exhibit C.

 B. Defendants' Account of the Transfer of Funds from the Government of Liberia to Defendant


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