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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France Tries to Seize 2 Fighter Jets

Two Russian jets literally flew away from an attempted seizure by French officials at the Paris Air Show on Friday.

The airplanes, an Su-30 fighter and a MiG/AT trainer, streaked into the sky to avoid being seized by a French Justice Ministry bailiff trying to enforce a French court ruling in favor of Swiss trading firm Noga, which claims the Russian government owes it $495 million.

"[Noga] tried to eat too much at once," Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, or Rosaviakosmos, said in a telephone interview from Le Bourget, where the show was held. Rosaviakosmos supervised the 90 or so Russian companies represented at the show, which ended Sunday.

Gorbunov said the two planes left Paris "due to technical reasons," even though they were scheduled to participate in demonstration flights Saturday and Sunday.

The Su-30 and MiG/AT are priced at $35 million and $12 million, respectively.

Noga lawyer Christopher Ayela, from the Paris-based firm Stasi and Partners, said by telephone that the planes left the small airport in Le Bourget despite the bailiff's order to the control tower prohibiting them from doing so. Ayela said the bailiff was trying to impound the planes in accordance with a May ruling by the Paris court of appeals in favor of Noga.

The verdict was the latest in a series of legal actions taken by Noga against the Russian Federation that have resulted in the confiscation of a boat and the freezing of the French bank accounts of both the Central Bank and the Russian Embassy in Paris, decisions that were eventually overturned.

Until late last year, Noga chief Nessim Gaon maintained that the Russian government owed his company $63 million from oil-for-food barter deals signed in 1991 and 1992. The government stopped paying Noga in 1993, but an international arbitration court in Stockholm, Sweden, ruled against it in 1997.

Last November, Noga submitted a revised list of claims to a court in New York that totaled $495 million. However, Ayela said that as of last month Noga was willing to settle for $100 million.

Ayela failed to identify exactly which Russian official or representative was served the injunction Friday.

"Whoever it was that showed up [at the Russian exposition] showed no documents," Gorbunov said. "We were not obliged to even listen to what they had to say."

Whoever let the two planes leave violated the court order and will be sued by Stasi and Partners for "facilitating the departure of the arrested planes," Ayela said. He refused to say whether or not other attempts to seize Russian hardware would been made.

Ayela said his firm had tried to seize the Su-30MK and the MiG/AT because it believed the two aircraft belonged to the Defense Ministry. In reality, however, the Su-30MK is owned by the Sukhoi Design Bureau, a joint stock company 51 percent owned by the Russian government. The MiG/AT was designed by the state-owned Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG's Mikoyan Design Bureau, but it is legally a joint project with several French firms.

Officials from both MiG and Sukhoi said they were outraged by Noga's actions, with a Sukhoi spokesman saying seizing the multi-purpose Su-30 could have resulted in the theft by spies of valuable technologies.

"All of those who tried to attack on this day got what they deserved in the end," said a senior MiG official, referring to Friday's 60th anniversary of Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov described the attempted seizure as "another provocation by Noga" and called on the French government to help resolve the issue.

Interfax quoted "a senior Moscow-based political source" as saying that the action might cloud French President Jacques Chirac's scheduled visit to Russia next month. Chirac visited the Russian exposition at Le Bourget earlier this week and personally inspected the Su-30MK.

Last year's seizure of the sailing vessel Sedov exacerbated the already-tense relations between Moscow and Paris and was cited as the reason President Vladimir Putin did not meet with his French counterpart during the Group of Seven summit in Okinawa, Japan.

Deputy Primer Minister Ilya Klebanov, who led Chirac on a tour of the Russian part of the exhibition, accused Noga and its president of trying to spoil relations between Russian and France.

The Kremlin-connected web site accused tycoon Boris Berezovsky of being involved in the scandal.

The web site quoted sources in the Russian Embassy in Paris as saying Friday that Berezovsky, who has fled Russia over what he claims are Kremlin-engineered attempts to prosecute him, was cooperating with Noga to try to disrupt Chirac's upcoming visit to Moscow.

An embassy official in Paris declined to comment on the report, saying "everyone who could comment about it has gone to Le Bourget."