by Anonymous & Concerned –
Every day for the past 20 years, the 83-year-old Haldon Smith makes the long trek to his local post office to get the mail. This former oil reserves engineer is waiting for a paycheck from his employer, which would compensate for work that he had completed back in the 1990’s. In the meantime, Mr. Smith is forced to live on government subsidy. His situation is so dire that he is forced to routinely shut off appliances, including his telephone, to save on electricity. This was not the life he envisioned when he first started working in the oil industry back in the 1950’s.
Haldon Smith was an unparalleled professional in his field. A graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, he worked in over 75 different countries, conducting 125 different reservoir studies, and testing 500 various oil and gas wells. His impressive list of clients includes such influential companies as Petróleos de Venezuela (Petroleum of Venezuela), the world’s fifth largest oil exporter. He also worked for the Arabian American Oil Company (Saudi Aramco), the world’s largest oil producer. He champtioned new gas well testing methods, including the efficient “modified isochronal test” that saves time and money and can be used in zones that would otherwise have been very difficult to test. Mr. Smith’s studies have appeared in the prestigious World Oil magazine, the Oil & Gas magazine, as well as other publications.
By 1992, Mr. Smith enjoyed an impeccable reputation in his field as a professional and experienced oil reservs engineer. When he was contacted by the Balkan Gas and Oil Company in London, the engineer thought that it was nothing out of the ordinary. The company promised Mr. Smith a long-term contract in regards to engineering estimates of gas and oil reserves in Libya and Bulgaria. Mr. Smith promptly began working on this new assignment.
By December 1992, the studies on the Libyan reserves had been completed. In April 1993 (in agreement with the terms stated in the contract), Haldon Smith visited Sofia, Bulgaria’s capitol, and made arrangements to work on the oil fields located in that country. Everything seemed to go well. Mr. Smith received payments for his work in the form of signed vouchers, which were signed by Amir Al Bazzaz, the director of Balkan Gas and Oil Company.
Time went on. Mr. Smith’s living expenses were remunerated, yet the payments for his labor as an engineer were very sporadic, to say the least. Alone in a foreign country, without the ability to speak the language, Mr. Smith was concerned that a large part of the bill for his services remained outstanding. This began a long communication between Mr. Smith and Al Bazzaz, his only English-speaking professional liaison.
Al Bazzaz assured the engineer that he had no cause for concern and that the bill would be paid in due time. Unwilling to break his side of the contract, Mr. Smith continued working on the voluminous project.
A large part of the assignment consisted of examining the two largest oilfields in Bulgaria located in Dolni Dabnik and Dolni Lukovit. There were lots of data, which had to be translated from Russian and Bulgarian before it could be used. On numerous occasions, Mr. Smith also represented the Balkan Gas and Oil Company in meetings with Bulgarian government officials. He made several presentations to prospective investors, protecting the company’s interests in the area.
Mr. Smith is extremely diligent at keeping records. Throughout the duration of the project, he issued monthly statements of outstanding fees, and sent periodic progress reports of completed work to London.
Yet Mr. Smith was about to find that the Balkan Gas and Oil Company was much less concerned with keeping its side of the contract. As the engineer’s bill continued to accumulate, he sent repeated letters and faxes to Mr. Al Bazzaz, which remained unanswered. An occasional voucher covering living expenses would often serve as the only proof that Mr. Smith had not been abandoned by his employer.
Throughout 1993, as the payments became increasingly rare, Haldon Smith was forced to move 21 times, due to the inaction of the Balkan Gas and Oil Company. Nevertheless, Mr. Smith was determined to keep his side of the contract and complete the lengthy estimates of the Bulgarian oil reserves.
From April 1994 to January 1996, the Balkan Gas and Oil Company made a total of only ten cash payments to Haldon Smith (adding up to about $22,200), in addition to the occasional payments for living expenses. Yet the bill for Mr. Smith’s engineering services continued to accumulate; his records show an 1 1/2 % monthly increase to the overall unpaid balance, per the terms stipulated in the contract.
Suddenly, in April 1996, there was a financial panic in Bulgaria. Money could no longer be transferred into the country. At this time, Al Bazzaz – and any trace of the Balkan Gas and Oil Company – effectively disappeared.
Mr. Smith’s frequent and frequent pleas for help were completely ignored by Mr. Al Bazzaz, or any other contacts in connection with the Balkan Gas and Oil Company.
Abandoned in a foreign country without any friends, co-workers, or funds, Mr. Smith became very sick. He admits that the suffering and emotional distress of the situation, combined with the illness, brought him very close to death.
When he finally resigned on May 15, 1996, Mr. Smith successfully completed his part of the contract, having performed a “complete and rigorous reservoir engineering study” on the Bulgarian oil reserves, as well as other valuable consulting services.
At the time, he was completely without funds, and had to make his own arrangements to return to the United States. In fact, he literally walked into the United States consulate in Bulgaria and asked them to help him return home.
Even as he struggled to adjust to life in the United States and find other means of employment, Mr. Smith did not loose faith that either Mr. Al Bazzaz or his company would leave their long overdue debts outstanding. Because the fee was constantly accruing interest, Mr. Smith continued to send regular invoices to Mr. Al Bazzaz. Throughout all the years, these letters and faxes were never returned, meaning that they successfully reached the intended recipient.
Mr. Smith enlisted the help of his colleagues and other professionals in the field to help find Mr. Al Bazzaz. Nevertheless, their efforts proved to be fruitless. A blurb in The London Gazette mentioned that a man whose name was spelled “Bazzaz, Amer Al.” filed for bankruptcy. Otherwise, no trace of the man was to be found.
Mr. Smith understood that he had a right to be paid for the work he provided, and he contacted a variety of lawyers in England and the United States. Because of the complicated chain of events and the abundant amount of paperwork, all of them refused to take the case, or, alternatively, did nothing to move it forward.
At this time, Mr. Smith reluctantly came to terms to with the fact that he was unable to find a job to support himself. According to his own admission, workers with many years of experience are often looked over, simply because of their age. Haldon Smith began spending his retirement, what should have been his “golden years,” as he refers to them, living on government support.
One day in 2012, Mr. Smith was flipping through a newspaper and saw an ad for legal help. He called the number, and reached David Grossack, a prominent Massachusetts lawyer with over 30 years of experience in various kinds of litigation, ranging from small claims cases and divorces to complex investment disputes. Mr. Grossack agreed to do everything he could to help Mr. Smith.
Mr. Grossack began a fierce campaign to locate Mr. Al Bazzaz. The lawyer engaged in an extensive amount of research, using his valuable skills as a private investigator. He found, among a range of other information, that Mr. Al Bazzaz allegedly owned a company in Panama. It was also discovered that Mr. Al Bazzaz lives in a spacious luxurious flat with a reputation “for providing cutting-edge, modern living.” A one-bedroom apartment in the same complex rents out for an asking price of £495,000 (approximately $808,978.50).
It was also discovered that Mr. Al Bazzaz may be related to Abd al-Rahman al-Bazzaz, a politician and reformist who, at one point, served as Prime Minister of Iraq. After being put in jail for an unsuccessful attempt at revolution, Al-Bazzaz held a variety of influencial positions. By 1966, however, he was pressured to resign, and, after being imprisoned once again, moved to London, where he died in 1973.
Mr. Grossack wrote a letter to Mr. Al Bazzaz, giving him the opportunity to pay the outstanding obligations without court action. This communication did not return to the lawyer’s office, meaning that it, also, was received. Another letter went out, informing the owner of Balkan Gas and Oil Company that Mr. Grossack was willing to “seek redress through a tribunal of appropriate jurisdiction.”
As part of preparation of bringing a case against Mr. Al Bazzaz, Mr. Grossack went a lot farther than the average lawyer: he engaged in research regarding sharia, the Islamic moral code and religious law. Grossack prepared a detailed complaint to be delivered to the Islamic tribunal, if Mr. Al Bazzaz consented to resolving the issue through that venue. Once again, this letter was ignored.
Mr. Grossack finally had a chance to speak to Mr. Al Bazzaz over the telephone. As soon as the lawyer finished his introduction, he heard a laugh and a succinct “don’t call here again.” Then, the line went dead.
Presently, Mr. Smith believes that the only recourse left to him is the ability to share his story on the Internet, so that others may be aware of what he suffered. Even after all this time, Haldon Smith is still utterly amazed at the treatment he received from the Balkan Gas and Oil Company. He readily admits that as a consultant in his field, he has never been treated this way by any of his 67 clients. He hopes that he is the only individual who has become a victim of Mr. Al Bazzaz’s practices.