Peter Barker-Homek in $460m legal claim against Taqa

Taqa, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, is facing a US$460 million legal battle with its former chief executive.

Taqa, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, is facing a US$460 million (Dh1.69 billion) legal battle with its former chief executive, Peter Barker-Homek. In a complaint filed in the US federal court in Michigan, Mr Barker-Homek alleges breach of contract by Taqa. He says that last October 16 he signed a severance agreement "under severe duress", immediately ending his employment without further compensation.

The former Taqa boss alleges he was threatened with arrest and imprisonment if he did not sign. The suit filed last Friday by his attorney Miller Barondess states that Mr Barker-Homek signed a new employment agreement with Taqa in 2008 under which he was to receive up to $3.2m in annual compensation, including $800,000 a year in salary, until his 60th birthday. The suit states that Mr Barker-Homek received the maximum possible bonus of $2.4m a year for the first two years of the new contract, which effectively quadrupled his previous annual compensation. The suit claims $30m for lost compensation resulting from alleged wrongful termination of employment.

The complaint further alleges that Mr Barker-Homek was fired for speaking out against "fraudulent and unethical practices" at Taqa, after he was "hired to make Taqa a meritocracy with transparent policies and practices that would be acceptable in business and financial markets around the world". In a statement yesterday, Taqa said it had been informed of its former chief executive's complaint and demand for a jury trial in the US.

"The company takes any challenge to its reputation extremely seriously and will vigorously defend itself and the individuals named against the spurious allegations made in the filing," it said. "Taqa will respond to the filing in due course through the appropriate legal channels." Mr Barker-Homek is also seeking damages for "humiliation, anxiety, severe emotional distress" and injury to his reputation.

The claim seeks $310m in compensatory damages and a further $150m in exemplary damages, plus legal costs. Taqa is 75 per cent held by the state-owned Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority. Its remaining share capital is listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. During his tenure as Taqa's chief executive from April 2006 to October last year, Mr Barker-Homek built up a portfolio of international oil, gas and electricity assets valued at more than $24.5bn and spread across four continents. Most of the acquisitions were debt-financed. The company's long-term debt approached $17bn last year.