Monday, Aug. 28, 2000 | 11:27 a.m.
Magician David Copperfield filed a $4 million lawsuit against Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. Friday because the company has refused to reimburse him for money he spent freeing property held hostage in Russia last year.
According to the lawsuit, Copperfield discovered shortly after he finished his final Moscow show in December that documents needed to get into and out of Russia duty free had been taken by a corporation that reportedly has ties to the Russian mob.
Without the papers, Copperfield could not leave the country with trucks that were carrying more than $4.2 million worth of theatrical equipment.
The Ris LisS Corp. informed Copperfield that he would get the so-called Carnet papers back if he agreed to pay a certain sum of money.
"Further, said persons threatened that if new Carnet papers were obtained and an attempt was made to move the trucks, the trucks would be hijacked and the property destroyed," the lawsuit states.
Copperfield hired Investigative Group International, which hired a former KGB officer to help negotiate with Ris LisS, the lawsuit states.
In January Copperfield learned that he could get the Carnet papers back for $250,000.
Copperfield wired $282,000 to Investigative Group International to cover the ransom amount, the company's fee and the fee of the former KGB officer.
The lawsuit states IGI informed Copperfield he could move the trucks to Finland and Ris LisS would get its payment once he had done so.
Copperfield asked Fireman's Fund to reimburse him for $504,000 but was rejected, the lawsuit states. The $504,000 included the ransom amount, $107,000 for the firm that located the Carnet papers and for expenses related to renting additional equipment, travel and trucking.
Fireman's Fund denied the coverage, saying Copperfield's policy did not cover losses resulting from "seizure or destruction of property by order of governmental authority," the lawsuit states.
Fireman's Fund also denied coverage because it believes paying Ris LisS was the same as hiring qualified drivers to ensure property is not lost, the lawsuit states.
However, the lawsuit states, the removal of the Carnet papers was clearly not a governmental act.
Moreover, "the hiring of qualified drivers is an ordinary and usual expense, while paying for someone not to destroy your property is hardly a normal expense," the lawsuit states.
In addition to the $506,000 he spent to get his property back, Copperfield is seeking $3 million in punitive damages and $1 million in compensatory damages and attorneys' fees.
According to a New York Post article, Ris LisS was the company that promoted Copperfield's tour and not only did it extort Copperfield, it didn't pay him for the tour.
Copperfield called Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Post reported, who put him in touch with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Berger helped put him in touch with the State Department, which could do nothing.