Al Jazeera Satellite Network fired back at Al Gore, claiming in a lawsuit that the former U.S. vice president isn’t entitled to $65 million held in escrow from the 2013 purchase of his Current TV cable network.
Gore sued Al Jazeera in August over the funds, held back as part of the $500 million deal, claiming network officials sought to improperly use the money to resolve their disputes with distributors, including Time Warner Cable Inc., Dish Network Corp. and AT&T Inc.
Gore and other former Current TV owners violated agreements with some of the former distributors and “blatantly ignored” their contractual obligations, Al Jazeera said in the filing. The network had to fend off distributors’ lawsuits and is entitled to use money in the escrow to cover the costs, lawyers for the Qatar-based broadcaster said.
Al Jazeera bought Current to gain access to millions of U.S. homes and start a new U.S. news channel. Gore was to make an estimated $100 million from the sale of Current, which he helped to start in 2004. After debt, he was expected to gross an estimated $70 million for his 20 percent stake, people familiar with the transaction said last year.
Gore, 66, didn’t immediately return a call for comment today on the Al Jazeera countersuit.
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He and his partners, including Joel Hyatt, founder of Hyatt Legal Services, Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle and money manager Richard Blum, bought Current’s predecessor company for $70 million in 2004.
The former Democratic vice president said at the time he wanted to create a “transformational” network. Revamped as Current TV, it would, like YouTube, thrive on youthful viewer input, be an antidote to Fox News and a liberal competitor to MSNBC.
Al Jazeera had unsuccessfully sought for years to get U.S. cable operators to pick up its English-language channel, which broadcasts to 220 million homes in more than 100 countries. Buying Current TV gave Al Jazeera America access to about 43 million homes nationwide, fewer than half of all pay-TV homes.
An audit of AT&T’s agreement found the former owners violated a promise to provide the most favorable contract terms to distributors, according to today’s Al Jazeera’s filing. AT&T, the largest U.S. phone company which also provides cable TV to subscribers in states including Texas and California, sued Al Jazeera over those violations and refused to carry the network’s U.S. channel.
While Al Jazeera and AT&T ultimately settled the suit, with AT&T agreeing to air Al Jazeera America, the Qatari company noted in the filing it incurred a year’s worth of litigation expenses and “loss of access to AT&T subscribers.”
Gore and Hyatt also tried a “shakedown” of the broadcaster prior to any court action by threatening to sue if the former Current TV owners weren’t given access to the $65 million, Al Jazeera said.
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