US FORWARDER IN COURT BATTLE WITH PAKISTAN UNPAID BILLS IN DISPUTE

US FORWARDER IN COURT BATTLE WITH PAKISTAN UNPAID BILLS IN DISPUTE

A San Francisco freight forwarder and Pakistan are trading shots over who owes what to whom under a forwarding contract for military shipments to the country.

Harper Robinson & Co. claims the government of Pakistan owes it over $230,000 in unpaid bills dating back to 1987.The Pakistan government responds that Harper Robinson has "misplaced or not accounted for" various goods with an estimated worth over $3 million that the forwarder was supposed to ship to and from Pakistan.

The debate, which centers on an arbitration clause in the contract, landed in federal district court here, but Pakistan contends the court has no jurisdiction over the matter.

Pakistan signed a freight forwarding agreement in December 1985. Under the agreement, Harper made shipping arrangements both into and out of the United States for Pakistani defense cargo.

"Beginning in at least 1987, Pakistan withheld payment of Harper invoices," a Harper memorandum said. Attempts to resolve the billing dispute started in March the following year.

Last December, Harper formally demanded arbitration under the auspices of the American Arbitration Association. Attorneys for Pakistan requested extra time to respond to the demand, citing the "extremely voluminous" shipment files that needed to be reviewed.

Harper agreed to the request, but Pakistan then came back with a request for a longer delay.

Harper filed suit. Pakistan responded with a motion to dismiss and with another motion to compel Harper to nominate an arbitrator.

"One of the frustrating aspects of the controversy has been repeated delay on the part of the Pakistanis . . . The government of Pakistan appears to use delay as a substitute for any substantive response to its problems," said Edward J. Sheppard, attorney for Harper.

He said Pakistan "waived its right to arbitration" when it did not accept Harper's formal demand for it last year, and "should not be permitted further to frustrate and delay resolution of the dispute on the ground that it now wants to arbitrate."

Mr. Sheppard added that Pakistan actually has been in default of the arbitration clause "for almost three years."

Wing Commander Muhammad Masud, defense procurement attache (air force) at the Embassy of Pakistan, said in a court affidavit that it has "always been the understanding (of the embassy) that all disputes with Harper Robinson and Co. were, unless amicably resolved, subject to arbitration."

Other court documents submitted by attorneys for Pakistan said the embassy has "disputed a substantial amount" of the Harper invoices. The district court "does not have jurisdiction . . . insofar as there is an arbitration clause in the contract," they added.

The case is before Judge Joyce Hens Green.