The Kurdistan Regional Government can bring $100 million of crude ashore in Texas after a U.S. judge threw out a court order that would have required federal agents to seize and hold the cargo for the Iraqi Oil Ministry until a court there decided which government owns it.
U.S. District Judge Gray Miller in Houston said he lacked authority under federal laws governing property stolen at sea to decide the dispute. Both Iraq’s central government and the regional government claim control of 1 million barrels of Kurdish crude waiting in a tanker moored in international waters off the Texas coast for almost a month.
Miller ruled Monday that Iraq’s national Oil Ministry lost control of the crude when the Kurdish government pumped it without authorization from oil fields in the northern part of the country. Iraq failed to convince Miller that the oil was misappropriated when it was loaded into a tanker in the Mediterranean Sea after being pumped across Turkey in an Iraq-owned pipeline.
“Kurdistan’s unauthorized export of oil over land – and later overseas – may violate Iraqi law, but it does not violate U.S. maritime law,” Miller said.
Miller threw out a seizure order issued July 28 by a Houston magistrate judge, who questioned U.S. jurisdiction in the matter while agreeing to store the cargo onshore at Iraq’s expense as the debate continued in that nation’s Supreme Court.
Kurdistan officials have been fighting the national government over billions of dollars in unpaid war reparations and royalties from oil fields owed by the central government. Attorneys for Iraq’s Oil Ministry had said the only way they could force the Kurdistan Regional Government to appear before the Iraq Supreme Court was to seize the disputed cargo in the U.S.
Phillip Dye, a Houston attorney for the Iraqi Oil Ministry, didn’t immediately respond to phone and email messages after regular business hours Monday seeking comment on the ruling.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 27, 2014, on page 5.