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Published: Friday, 1/27/2006

Jealousy cited in gas station suit

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A pair of Michigan men sued in U.S. District Court in Toledo earlier this month over the alleged torture in Lebanon and beating-for-hire in Dearborn, Mich., of a relative of one of the men over a business deal gone sour said yesterday that the suit has no merit.

"When you become big, you become a target. I have a lot of enemies because they are jealous of my success," said Hassan Harajli, who was sued by his brother-in-law Mohamad Ajami and sister, Hanadi Ajami.

Mr. Harajli, of New Boston, Mich., owns Fusion Oil, which operates 80 service stations in Michigan and Ohio.

The dispute between the brothers-in-law stems from a 2000 business transaction in which Mr. Harajli secured a loan for Mr. Ajami from Citibank for $584,000 for the renovation of a closed service station at 350 West Bancroft St. that Mr. Ajami intended to operate as A&M Gas Station.

Mr. Ajami gave Mr. Harajli control of the renovation funds. In the complaint, Mr. Ajami said $393,000 of the money intended for the renovation was unaccounted for by Mr. Harajli.

Mr. Harajli said yesterday he spent more than $200,000 on storage tank installation, concrete, electricity, and plumbing, and that Mr. Ajami has been unsuccessful in other, similar suits filed against him on the same issue.

Mr. Ajami's attorney, Norman Abood, of Toledo, said Mr. Harajli has made contradictory statements in the various com-plaints related to the alleged unaccounted funds.

"In Michigan, he said he received the money. In our case, he filed liens, giving no indication he has received the money," Mr. Abood said.

In the complaint, Mr. Ajami contends that Mr. Harajli filed fraudulent liens against the property in 2001 in an attempt to seize control of the service station and withheld gasoline deliveries - Mr. Harajli was his supplier - in an effort to sink the business.

As a result, Mr. Ajami stopped paying on the loan, forcing Mr. Harajli to pay off the note, Mr. Harajli said.

"He didn't want to pay the mortgage," said Mr. Harajli, adding that he spent more than $600,000 on the Bancroft service station project. "I put money out of my pocket just to finish this because I didn't want my name ruined in my bank, and he was my brother-in-law and she was my sister."

Once he owned the note, Mr. Harajli filed a foreclosure proceeding on the property. A court-appointed receiver has since been assigned to handle loan payments, which Mr. Harajli said Mr. Ajami has been making, while the foreclosure suit is pending.

Meanwhile, in September, 2004, Mr. Ajami visited Tibnin, Lebanon, where he, his wife, and Mr. Harajli were raised.

According to the complaint, when Mr. Ajami attempted to have his Lebanese passport renewed, he was detained by Lebanese officials. His detention lasted about 10 days and ended only when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut intervened, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Mr. Harajli and Hassan Salame paid $50,000 to Lebanese officials, resulting in the "unlawful arrest, kidnapping, torture, inhumane treatment, and illegal transport of [Mr. Ajami.]"

Mr.Harajli had a different view yesterday.

"These people he said I bribed each are worth $400 million. They wouldn't pick their teeth for $50,000," he said.

Mr. Harajli disputes the intervention by the U.S. Embassy on Mr. Ajami's behalf, and said he was instead aided by Nabhi Berri, Lebanon's Parliament speaker, who facilitated Mr. Ajami's release. He alleges that Mr. Ajami is wanted on various charges in Lebanon.

Mr. Ajami's attorneys said yesterday they are seeking files from the U.S. government to determine if the U.S. Embassy played a role in Mr. Ajami's release.

As for Mr. Berri's alleged role in the incident, attorney Richard Kerger said he has his doubts.

"If Mr. Ajami is such an insignificant person, why would [Mr. Berri] be involved in getting him out," he said.

On Nov. 13, 2004, Mr. Ajami was attacked and beaten by two men outside his Dearborn home as he left for work at his Toledo service station.

On March 18, 2005, Hassan Ali Naser and Hussein Ali Naser pled guilty to charges of assault with intent to commit serious bodily harm less than murder in Wayne County Circuit Court.

In their testimony before Judge Brian Sullivan, the men said they had been hired by Mr. Harajli and Hassan Salame, of Dearborn Heights, Mich., to assault Mr. Ajami, according to Mr. Ajami's complaint.

Mr. Harajli and Mr. Salame, who are friends, were charged in the case on June 5 and are out on bond.

They alleged yesterday that the Nasers attacked Mr. Ajami for another reason, but were persuaded by Mr. Ajami to implicate Mr. Harajli and Mr. Salame instead. Mr. Harajli and Mr. Salame said they have filed for dismissal of the charges. A hearing is scheduled Feb. 15.

Mr. Harajli's attorney, Karyn McConnell Hancock of Toledo, said her client has not formally been served with the Ajamis' complaint. Once served, she said she will file a response within the allotted 28 days and possibly file a countersuit.

Contact George Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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