US$5m Lawsuit Hangs Over TOTAL Liberia

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Willie Belleh, Liberia businessman, on Monday filed US$5m lawsuit against TOTAL Liberia management at the Commercial Court of the Temple of Justice for alleged wrongful termination of his contract.

Mr. Belleh informed the court that the alleged action by the defendant is in gross violation of the terms of the license agreement along with its contractual duties of good faith and fair dealing as imposed by the Liberian Commercial Code.
He said the summary termination of the agreement by the management of TOTAL has affected his ability to fully pay a loan he took from a bank, noting that his current residence has been pledged as a bond or collateral.
He said he is confident that his action will force the defendant to pay a special damage in the amount of US$289,725.75 and general and exemplary damages in an amount not less than US$5 million.

Mr. Belleh told the court that on August 16, 2011, he and the TOTAL management entered into and executed a marketing license agreement.

He explained that the agreement was meant to allow him to carry on the business of importation, purchase, storage, marketing and distribution of petroleum based products “use the Total registered trade brands, trade names and trademarks for its benefits and the goodwill associated therewith (the “Total Marks”) and to use the land, equipment and facilities owned by the defendant and “lying at Bushrod Island together with the filing/service station…erected thereon”, which station is known and referred to as the Freeport Service Station.
He noted that the agreement provided that Defendant Total, as the Licensor, “shall give such technical, marketing and operational assistance to the Licensee as may from time to time at its discretion be necessary to maximize sales at the station."
He was required to provide and in fact did provide a bank guarantee of a specified amount which was “retained by the Licensor free of interest during the continuance of this License as a guarantee of payment by the Licensee of all amounts due by virtue of this License.”

In order to secure the requisite bank guarantee and the capital necessary to meet all the obligations required to comply with the License Agreement and operate the Station and its ancillary facilities, according to the Plaintiff, he obtained a loan from Global Bank in the amount of US$272,000 excluding interest and other charges, which the Defendant was duly informed.

He further said that the Freeport Station and ancillary facilities of the defendant were turned over by defendant to him (Plaintiff) and opened to the public on October 7, 2011 and began selling to the public.

He stated that on June 26, 2012, he and his agents discovered that approximately US$61,533.30 worth of petroleum products had been stolen by one of the pump attendants recruited, trained and deployed to the station by the defendant.

Upon discovery of the theft, the plaintiff promptly reported the theft to defendant and requested that defendant take responsibility of the loss given that the theft was defendant’s agent as he had been recruited, trained and deployed to the station by TOTAL.

Mr. Belleh alleged that the defendant did not investigate the matter, but instead gave plaintiff a soft supplier's credit loan of US$61,850.00 payable at one cent per gallon sold by plaintiff.

Furthermore, plaintiff said that the June 26, 2012 theft of over US$60,000.00 which occurred less than a year as of the opening of the station and while the station had not broken even seriously undermined the capital that Plaintiff had mobilized and invested to operate the station.

He also said it was not surprising when the TOTAL Management not long after the June 2012 theft, informed Plaintiff that the working capital of the station was decreasing because Plaintiff was also servicing the bank loan from the business.

Plaintiff says that in order to address defendant’s concern about the level of capital he accepted to use his personal resources to service the business loan he had obtained for operation of the station.

Accordingly, Plaintiff made payments against the business bank loan from his personal funds in the amounts of US$70,000.00, US$25,000.00 and US$10,000 respectively.

Plaintiff further complained that on May 31, 2013, he informed the defendant about many challenges facing the station which included a) high cost of fuel consumption of two generators; b) recalibration of the PMS tanks ‘2’ and ‘3’; c) strengthening of security operations at the station to reduce theft, stop private individuals packing their vehicles in the forecourt and around the station; and d) leakages in the storeroom, dealer’s office, cashier office and mini mart.