13 February 2013

Uganda: Courier Company, Insurer Sued Over Sh1.5 Billion Stolen Artwork

A businesswoman has sued a courier company and an insurance company over artwork worth $600,000(sh1.5b), purportedly stolen as they transported it to Israel.

The battle at the Commercial Court is between Irene Muteteri, East African Courier Uganda Limited, and Insurance Company of East Africa Uganda Limited (ICEA).

On Tuesday, Muteteri testified before Justice Helen Obura that she was shocked to be informed by her friend Eli Levy, that her artwork had been stolen.

The package that arrived on November 12, 2009 contained shreds of newspapers, corrugated cardboard, five floppy diskettes, and empty FedEx bags.

"Eli Levi called me on November 22, 2009, and said an empty box had arrived in Israel. It was a Sunday, so I waited for the next day Monday, and I went to ICEA, and filled a claim form," Muteteri said.

During examination, she was guided by her lawyer Joseph Matsiko of Kampala Associated Advocates. The insurer's lawyer is Peter Musoke of Shonubi, Musoke and Company Advocates.

According to court documents, she hired the courier company to deliver the four expensive 18th century art pieces, painted by famous classical painters Albert Joseph Moore, Jean Frederic Schall, John Zoffany, and Antoine Pesne.

Court documents further show that in on October 23, 2009, Muteteri agreed to sell four pieces of artwork, worth $600,000 to one Joseph Gabai of Sirkim Street 22, in the Israeli city of Haifa.

The artwork, given to her by German mother in-law as a wedding gift in 1994, was to be delivered to one Joseph Elimelech of 10 Yhiel Street, Haifa.

A sale agreement was subsequently signed. Documents also show that on October 26, 2009, Muteteri contracted the courier, linked to the American FedEx Express Corporation.

The plaint states that the artwork, weighing 30 kilogrammes, was placed in special packaging provided by FedEx Express. Muteteri asserts that she declared it to Entebbe Airport customs office.

Muteteri states that artwork was insured at $600,000, and that the insurer issued her with a Certificate of Marine Insurance, dated October 26, 2009.

She notes that on November 10, 2009, the courier explained delay in delivery of the package, citing misplacement of the paper work and poor handling of the package.

But in its defence, the courier admits responsibility but asserts that its liability is only limited to $100. The insurer denied fault, saying Muteteri violated the condition of the agreement that required her to report the loss immediately or not later than three days from the date of delivery.

Further hearing is scheduled for April 29.

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