The Al Jazeera America television network is rejecting claims it owes former Vice President Al Gore and his business partner $65 million.
Last week, Gore and business partner Joel Hyatt sued the satellite TV service owned by the Qatari royal family for fraud and breach of contract. The two men alleged Al Jazeera America Holdings illegally withheld $65 million of the agreed-upon $500-million purchase price for cable channel Current TV, which was rebranded as a news network, Al Jazeera America.
Al Jazeera America, in a statement, called some of the Gore-Hyatt public statements “blatantly false” and “potentially misleading.” The network said the matter is simply “an ordinary commercial dispute.”
"The lawsuit and statement simultaneously issued by Al Gore’s celebrity trial lawyer were designed to grab headlines with misleading accusations like 'fraud' and 'price discount,'" the statement said.
Current Media, founded by Gore and Hyatt nearly a decade ago as a youth-oriented news and pop culture channel, struggled for traction and in early 2013, the partners sold the channel to Al Jazeera America Holdings for $500 million. The channel was rebranded as news service Al Jazeera America.
Following the January 2013 sale of the channel, $85 million of the agreed-upon purchase price was placed in an escrow account until Gore and his partners could satisfy some indemnification obligations, according to a public court filing in Delaware.
Gore and his partner received $20 million of that amount -- but $65 million remained in the escrow account.
Al Jazeera America said the Gore-Hyatt group promised at the time of purchase the network was not in breach of any of its significant contracts and it would indemnify Al Jazeera for any claims made. The network said it was still dealing with third parties over disputes that originated during the Gore-Hyatt ownership.
"Rather than indemnifying Al Jazeera as they were required to do, Gore and Hyatt have resorted to a preemptive lawsuit and lawyer-driven public relations maneuvers," Al Jazeera said in its statement.
The network said it has not committed fraud nor is it wrongfully holding escrow funds.
"Al Jazeera is not seeking a 'discount' from the hundreds of millions of dollars it has already paid to the Gore-Hyatt group," the statement said. "The money in the escrow fund is intended to indemnify Al Jazeera, and Al Jazeera’s indemnification claims are more than the amount held in escrow. The sellers themselves agreed that if Al Jazeera’s right to indemnification exceeded the escrow fund, the sellers would not receive anything from it."
Andrew L. Deutsch, a partner of DLA Piper LLP, which represents Al Jazeera, said in the next few weeks, the network will provide a clear explanation of its position and right to indemnification from escrow funds.
"Al Jazeera welcomes the opportunity to resolve this commercial dispute before an impartial tribunal," Deutsch said in the statement.
Gore and Hyatt's attorneys are demanding the lawsuit, which was filed under seal, be made public.
The business partners' attorney David Boies said in a statement Tuesday if the network "thinks that this is an ordinary commercial dispute, then Al Jazeera America should be willing to allow the entire complaint to be made public.”
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