HOUSTON (CN) - An attorney sued a former client for $18.75 million, claiming he's owed that money for negotiating a settlement to recover the man's collection of rare African tribal art.
Ronald Kormanik sued Victor Seghers and his company Tikar Inc. in Harris County Court.
Kormanik claims Seghers hired him in July 2005 to bring claims against a man living in Cameroon named Emmanuel Mbiam.
Mbiam is not a party to Kormanik's lawsuit.
"Mbiam had control over an art collection of ancient artifacts that had been gathered and collected by Seghers, representing and depicting the skills and culture of artisans of the Tikar tribe," the complaint states. (pg. 2/graph 2)
The Tikar live in northwest Cameroon and number about 25,000. They are known for their masks.
Korminak claims: "Seghers had spent millions collecting this art, millions more in bribes and tribute to Mbiam, but did not have the art itself because of a desire on the part of Mbiam to maintain economic leverage over Seghers.
"The value of this art collection was estimated to be as high as $750 million.
"Part of Segher's plan and thought was to be the world's largest owner and collector of Tikar art, and to be the single source for anyone interested in this rare and valuable form of ancient African art."
Kormanik says Seghers moved part of the collection to a warehouse in Temple, Texas where he still stores it.
"The amount of art controlled by Mbiam, however, was vast and constituted an unknown but large percentage of the entire collection and a large percentage of all known Tikar art," the complaint states.
"Without complete control of this entire collection, however, Seghers' plans were incapable of realization, and he needed to get his art back from Mbiam.
"Kormanik devised a plan for the acquisition and capture of Seghers' art collection from Mbiam, sued Mbiam in Texas, and against all odds was able to negotiate a settlement.
"Kormanik later traveled to Cameroon, where Mbiam and the remaining part of the art collection resided, with Seghers and others to supervise the physical transfer of the art collection and ensure that the settlement terms were effectuated.
"This very successful engagement was documented in a contract wherein Seghers agreed to pay Kormanik a negotiated hourly fee, but also agreed to transfer ownership to Kormanik of 2.5 percent of the art collection to Kormanik for his legal services against Mbiam and others."
But Kormanik says:" Now that Seghers has control of all of his art, he has sworn under oath that the art has no value in an attempt to avoid paying to Kormanik the amount agreed upon in the contract.
"In the meantime, Seghers has control of the art collection and has a fiduciary responsibility for the care of this collection and taking steps to preserve and enhance the value of this art collection.
"Yet, Seghers has failed to take reasonable steps to preserve and enhance the value of the art collection, and instead has jeopardized the value of this collection as a whole, and Kormanik's portion of it in particular.
"In order to preserve his portion of his asset, Kormanik needs the collection to be subject to partition wherein a proper allocation to Kormanik may be accomplished."