US aviation tycoon falls out with Kenya partner

One of the helicopters owned by Lady Lori.
One of the helicopters owned by Lady Lori. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

A US tycoon has left the courtroom with a Sh6 million bill after a protracted five- year row with a Kenyan businessman who had leased his charter planes.

James Stanley Denooyer has been embroiled in a bitter row with James David Roberts, the owner of charter flight company Tropic Air Limited. Mr Denooyer, the operator of aviation firm Lady Lori Limited, moved to court in 2009 claiming compensation of Sh22.2 million which he alleged to be the cost he incurred in repairing planes that he had leased to Tropic Air, but that were allegedly damaged as a result of mishandling.
Mr Denooyer had also sought a further payment of Sh14 million claiming it was unpaid amount resulting from operation, charter, training, and use of the aircraft. The US businessman, however, ended the loser in the case whose judgment was passed on Tuesday last week, as Justice Jonathan Havelock rejected his claim, noting that no evidence was produced.

The court ordered him to pay a bill of Sh6 million plus interest, while on the other hand Mr Roberts was ordered to pay the US tycoon Sh800,000 being the amount he admitted to owing him.
“Despite every effort made by the plaintiff (Lady Lori) to prove the defendant negligent in the operation of the aircraft and despite the resilient defence put up by the defendant resisting the plaintiff’s allegations in this regard, I do not find that the defendant was negligent in its operation of the aircraft,” ruled Justice Havelock.

No licence
But besides the monetary claims, what raises questions is why these two business partners engaged in such a bitter fight.

Tropic Air operates from Nanyuki and is famous for rescue missions, among them the rescue of Ugandan soldiers whose plane crashed in Mount Kenya a few years ago. The firm has also shot very many documentaries and commercials among them the ‘‘Niko na Safaricom’’ advert.


The two rich men who are in the lucrative charter flight business in Kenya put up a strong fight over a claim that arguably is a little more than what they have spent on their lawyers as legal fee in the past five years, reflecting the underlying bitter fallout.
Mr Denooyer, who owned several helicopters, had leased to Mr Roberts several planes that the Kenyan-born businessman operated under his company licence, Tropic Air. During all this time, Mr Denooyer had no licence to operate commercial flights in Kenya. The relationship between the businessmen seemed rosy throughout as evidenced by Mr Denooyer’s statement that as late as 2006 he loaned Mr Roberts $1,094,391 (Sh96.3 million).
Problems between the two seem to have started sometime in 2008 but the details of what led to this fallout is not clear. But Mr Roberts, in his testimony to court, claimed that the case was brought to destabilise his company, arguing that Mr Denooyer poached his employees to start his company Lady Lori.
Mr Denooyer denied this claim, despite evidence that two of his witnesses in court were former employees of Mr Roberts. Justice Havelock agreed with this claim, noting evidence given by two of Mr Denooyer’s witnesses.
“Although in his evidence, PW3 (Mr Denooyer) vehemently denied poaching the defendant staff, including PW 1 and PW 2 (Mr Denooyer two witnesses), I have little doubt that he did so an in so doing, paved the way to setting up the plaintiff helicopter charter business based in Nairobi,” said the Judge.
Mr Denooyer in court documents argued that one of his planes that was returned to him in October 2009 after the termination of the contract between him and Tropic Air had a damaged engine. He said the Eurocopter AS350 B3 was damaged after a pilot working for Tropic Air removed its rotor blades, repainted it and returned to it without proper balancing.

He said this imbalance caused vibration and engine was damaged during a trip to Serengeti in Tanzania by Tropic Air pilot to record a wildlife BBC documentary. But the judge agreed with the defence of Tropic Air, which said it was not possible to shoot a documentary with a vibrating helicopter since the camera is fixed on the landing gear.