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Oklahoma lawsuit hits 10 tobacco companies

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's attorney general sued 10 tobacco manufacturers Tuesday, accusing them of skirting a state law that requires payments to an escrow account as part of the national tobacco settlement.

The companies named in the lawsuits are located in other countries, except one.

The lawsuits, filed in Oklahoma County, accuse the tobacco manufacturers of selling products in Oklahoma and failing to establish an escrow account or not properly funding the account.

``Just because these manufacturers are located outside the state doesn't exempt them from Oklahoma law,'' Attorney General Drew Edmondson said. ``If their products can find their way to Oklahoma shelves, their payments should be able to find their way to Oklahoma's escrow account.''

Oklahoma law requires companies that did not sign the tobacco settlement to make yearly payments to the escrow account based on their previous year's sales.

The lawsuits did not specify the amount of money the state is seeking to recover, except that it is in excess of $10,000 for each company.

Defendants are Grand River Enterprises, Canada; G.A. Keranis, Greece; Poro International Business Corp., Hong King; SEKAP SA, Greece; Universal Hamilton Manufacturing Company/Mighty Corp., Philippines; GTC Industries, India; NV Sumatra Tobacco Trading Co., Indonesia; G.B. Tobacco International Ltd., Cyprus; Changde Cigarette Factory, China, and Patriot Tobacco Co., Texas.

Edmondson and state Treasurer Robert Butkin also announced that Oklahoma received $16.5 million from the tobacco industry Tuesday as part of the 1998 tobacco settlement.

About $9 million of the money, or 55 percent, was placed in Oklahoma's Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund, which has grown to $97 million.

The fund is used for smoking education, prevention and cessation programs.

Oklahoma received more than $2 billion over 25 years as its share of the tobacco settlement.

The state has received $244 million from the tobacco industry since the legal agreement was reached.
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