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Thursday, 10 August, 2000, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Russian diplomatic accounts unfrozen
The Russian Sedov ship, impounded by Noga
A Russian ship was impounded as part of the row
An appeals court in France has ordered the immediate unfreezing of diplomatic bank accounts held by the Russian Embassy in Paris.

The accounts were frozen in May, following a claim by Swiss trading company Noga, that the Russian Government owed it tens of millions of dollars in unpaid loans.


I am happy that the ambassador can now mow his lawn and put gasoline in his limousine

Mario Stasi, lawyer for Noga
The issue had caused diplomatic humiliation for Russia, and the foreign ministry had warned it was seriously damaging Franco-Russian relations.

Russian diplomats, and other official delegations in France, had been forced to make financial cut-backs.

"We could no longer pay our bills, carry out little repairs or organise diplomatic receptions, concerts or exhibitions as we did before," said Konstantin Petrichenko, first secretary of the Russian Embassy.

'Justice'

"Good sense and justice have triumphed."

Noga says Russia owes it millions of dollars from oil-for-food trade contracts dating back to the early 1990s which the Russians failed to honour.

A lawyer for the company, Mario Stasi, said: "I am happy that the ambassador can now mow his lawn and put gasoline in his limousine. I was very worried about him."

He said the company would carry on its pursuit of Russia "until it gets what it is owed."

Ship row

Noga's lawyers had threatened during the hearing to impound President Vladimir Putin's official plane, when the Russian leader visits France in October.

Last month Noga managed to have a renowned Russian ship impounded when it came to France to take part in an international regatta.


Justice, although belatedly, has been served

Russian foreign ministry
The Sedov was allowed to leave the north western port of Brest after a court ruled it could not be held liable for the state's debts.

Thursday's ruling in Paris upheld the Russians' case that seizing their assets is barred by conventions which guarantee diplomatic immunity. Noga was also ordered to pay the court costs.

After the ruling, the Russian Foreign Ministry said: "Such a decision was the only one possible. Justice, although belatedly, has been served."

Noga's lawyers have said they intend to take their case to France's highest court of appeal. They also want to pursue Russian assets in other places, including Switzerland and the United States.

Relations between Russia and France were already strained by France's criticism of Russia's ongoing war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

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24 Jul 00 | Europe
Seized Russian ship sets sail
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