HOUSTON (CN) - A Houston attorney bought Russian capsules for a commercial spaceflight venture that "were only museum pieces," defrauding a Japanese investor of $49 million, the billionaire investor claims in state court.
Takafumie Horie, whose Internet portal company Livedoor made him a billionaire, sued Art Dula in Harris County Court on Monday.
Dula specializes in "space law" and is the literary executor of Robert Heinlein, the legendary science fiction writer known for his stories about human space exploration.
Dula also is trustee of the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust, which awards cash to encourage research into commercial space exploration.
Requests for comment from Dula, made through his law offices and through fellow defendant Excalibur Almaz Limited, were unsuccessful. A staff member in his office said Dula and his business partner Buckner Hightower are traveling outside the country and unavailable for comment.
In his lawsuit, Horie claims Dula leveraged his position as trustee of the Heinlein trust to solicit him as a client and investor.
"Horie engaged Dula as his attorney, and then trusted him enough to give Dula $49,003,000.00 in trust for purposes of setting up a business to accomplish space travel," the complaint states.
Horie claims Dula reeled him in by claiming "he could set up a commercial space transportation program to carry cargo, scientific experiments, and people into low Earth orbit to the International Space Station and other space destinations."
Dula bought four space capsules and two space stations with Horie's money from NPO Mashinostroyenia, a Russian aerospace firm, Horie claims in the lawsuit.
But he says there was a major problem with the Russian equipment.
Dula "represented to plaintiff and others that the hardware could be made 'flight worthy,' and that he could refurbish, modify and update the equipment so that it would be certified for flight," the complaint states.
It continues: "The purchase contracts had to be approved by the Russian government, and unbeknownst to plaintiff ... expressly excluded the right to modify the Russian hardware, thus relegating it to display uses only! The items were only museum pieces, a secret Dula would keep until well after he acquired control of plaintiff's investment."
Dula's vehicle for the scheme was Excalibur Almaz Limited, an entity he set up in the Isle of Man, into which he transferred Horie's $49 million investment, according to the complaint.
Horie claims that Dula "spent some $775,000 of Horie's money in order [to] transfer $28 million of Horie's money (plus the space hardware) into his own name." (Parentheses in complaint.)
Horie claims that Dula's moves reduced his stake in Excalibur Almaz from 75 percent to 34 percent.
He seeks an accounting and punitive damages for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, theft, Texas Securities Act violations and negligence.
Also named as defendants are Dula's law office associate Anat Friedman, his business partner J. Buckner Hightower, The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust, Excalibur Limited, Excalibur Almaz Limited and Excalibur Almaz USA Inc.
Horie is represented by Lloyd Kelley of Houston.
In September 2013, a woman sued Dula, Hightower and Excalibur Almaz Limited, claiming they defrauded her of $300,000 with an asteroid mining scheme. The parties mutually dismissed that case in January.Follow @@cam_langford
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