Saturday, February 25, 2006

Washington told to justify port deal in court

Washington told to justify port deal in court
By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Bush administration was ordered by a U.S. federal judge on Friday to explain why it did not give New Jersey officials documents and information Washington had about a deal allowing an Arab company to take over management of a container terminal in Newark.

U.S. District Court Judge Jose Linares signed an order demanding to know why the government did not carry out a full investigation into the change of ownership of the container terminal at Port Newark.

The judge set a hearing for Wednesday and said in the order he would issue a preliminary injunction blocking the deal, pending a full investigation, unless he was satisfied with Washington's answers.

The judge asked in the order that federal officials explain why New Jersey officials were not given the same documents and information that Washington used to approve the deal, under which state-owned Dubai Ports World would take over management from the British company P&O.

On Thursday, the State of New Jersey sued the federal government to block the deal on the grounds it violated the 10th Amendment, which says states control anything not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Earlier, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine urged the governors of states with ports affected by the deal -- Louisiana, New York, Florida, Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania -- to join the lawsuit.

Democrat Corzine issued the invitation in letters to each governor, saying the lawsuit "will seek to enjoin this sale of vital assets to a foreign nation without our states having had the opportunity to determine the extent of the threat to the safety of our citizens."

The latest developments came as a second lawsuit was filed in New Jersey over the controversial deal.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey filed a lawsuit on Friday to stop the change of management of its container terminal at Port Newark in New Jersey.

The authority, jointly owned by the states of New York and New Jersey, said the deal violates the terms of P&O's lease.

The transaction is part of a $6.85 billion deal under which the United Arab Emirates company Dubai Ports World DPW would manage terminals at six major U.S. ports.

The plan has sparked protests from federal and local lawmakers and officials who fear the ports' security will be hurt if they are managed by a company whose owner has been accused of having links with terrorist groups.

The Port Authority said it has a right to review changes in port management under the existing lease agreement. The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court in Newark, urged the court to declare that the purchase of P&O requires consent of the Port Authority under the lease, that the container terminal is in breach of its lease, and that the lease is terminated.

The suit names P&O Ports North America, and Port Newark Container Terminal LLC as defendants.

U.S. lawmakers opposed to the takeover have cited links between UAE and al Qaeda but President George W. Bush has defended the deal, calling the UAE an ally in his war on terrorism.

"The Port Authority has been deprived of its right to conduct a thorough review of the purchase ... of the identity, qualifications, experience and reputation of the purchasers ... and of the proposed impact that the change may have on the control and ownership," the lawsuit said.