Squabble Over Plane Headed to Russia Resolved
MILWAUKEE - A Russian company has agreed to pay $2.2 million to complete the purchase of a corporate jet, a lawyer for the sellers said, paving the way for the plane to leave Milwaukee, where it has been grounded since Saturday.
A restraining order preventing the plane from taking off was lifted by a Delaware Chancery Court late Wednesday, said Sean Bellew, an attorney for N871DP LLC, the Delaware-based seller of the plane.
The buyer, a company called Siviera, a subsidiary of Russian telecommunications conglomerate Sistema, agreed to turn over the remainder of the roughly $16 million price for the plane, he said. The money had been held in an escrow account in Oklahoma City.
"We have no further reason to prohibit them from taking the plane," Bellew said.
Sistema released a statement Thursday saying the dispute was over extra fuel tanks it had paid for but were never installed. Bellew declined to comment on Sistema's claim.
Martin Weinberg, a New York-based lawyer for Siviera, said it was now working with the Federal Aviation Administration to get permission to fly the plane.
Getting such a permit -- which will outline specific rules of flight for the aircraft -- could take several days, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.
The FAA ordered the plane grounded on Saturday as it was heading to Canada, and eventually, Moscow. Peter DeLisa, one of the sellers, said they learned it had taken off from Fort Worth, Texas, where it was undergoing repairs, despite a restraining order they had. He said the sellers called authorities because they were concerned about who was flying the plane and where it was going.
His company sought a restraining order Friday, DeLisa said, because Siviera said the previous day that it wanted to back out of the deal for the MD-87. Siviera still owed more than $2.2 million on the plane, which seats 19 people and has a bedroom, he said.
The Delaware Chancery Court extended the restraining order earlier this week.
Sistema is considered the largest private consumer services company in Russia. Its portfolio of businesses includes telecommunications, insurance, real estate, banking and pharmaceuticals. It posted revenues of nearly $7.6 billion in 2005.
The man who claims to own it told TODAY'S TMJ4 it was stolen.
Peter DeLisa of New Jersey was selling the plane to the Russians. DeLisa claims the Russian buyers still owed him $2.5 million and that the plane was not safe to fly. That's when the FAA got involved and forced it down in Milwaukee.
"The fact that the airplane was diverted to Milwaukee had nothing to do with the fact that they stole the airplane or owed us money," DeLisa said. "It was strictly because we knew that they were not in compliance with many, many federal air regulations."
From the outside, it looks like a regular plane. But go inside and you can see how the rich and famous fly in luxury - a private bedroom, fancy kitchen and dining rooms and more than 23 flat screen monitors.
"It's one of only probably four in the world like it," DeLisa explained. But the plane is now the focus of a financial feud that has caught the attention of federal officials.
For now, the plane will sit in Milwaukee while the FAA decides whether it's safe to fly.
Lawyers for the Russian buyers say they did not steal the plane, and they have the title to the luxury jet.
The FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force determined there was no security threat once the plane landed in Milwaukee. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement agents were called to the scene to check the passengers on the plane. Officials say there were only six on board. Three were American; the other three were Russian nationals. All of their paperwork checked out.
No one on board the plane was taken into custody. But the FAA said the plane violated its rules of flight which required an aircraft of this size to have a specific number of crew on board.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.