Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore sued Al Jazeera, claiming the satellite news provider owned by the Qatari royal family owes him and a partner $65 million from a deal to buy his network, Current TV.
Gore, 66, and Joel Hyatt, another former Current TV owner, accused Al Jazeera American Holdings I Inc. of fraud and breach of contract and are seeking undisclosed damages in a sealed complaint filed today in Chancery Court in Wilmington, Delaware. The men alleged that Al Jazeera illegally tried to seize $65 million in escrow funds tied to the $500 million buyout.
“Al Jazeera America wants to give itself a discount on the purchase price that was agreed to nearly two years ago,” David Boies, a lawyer for Gore, said in a statement. “We are asking the court to order Al Jazeera America to stop wrongfully withholding the escrow funds that belong to Current’s former shareholders.”
Buying Gore’s channel and rebranding it gave Al Jazeera America access to about 43 million U.S. homes. Gore was to make an estimated $100 million on the sale of the network, which he helped to start in 2004. After debt, he was to gross an estimated $70 million for his 20 percent stake, people familiar with the transaction said last year.
Dawn Bridges, a spokeswoman for Al Jazeera, said today that the network’s lawyers are reviewing the lawsuit.
Boies, 73, represented Gore in the Florida presidential-election recount in 2000.
Gore and partners that included 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.
Gore 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.
Instead, Current failed to make much of an impact at all while Gore was paying himself $1.2 million a year in salary and bonuses, according to 2008 Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed as part of a proposed public offering that was later withdrawn.
The sale to Al Jazeera drew a lawsuit from media consultant John Terenzio, who said putting the two networks in touch was his idea. The transaction also raised eyebrows because Gore, who has for years inveighed against fossil fuels and their role in climate change, sold the network to a company funded in part by oil-rich Qatar.
Gore has defended the sale on the grounds that, among other things, Al Jazeera has “the highest quality, most extensive, best climate coverage of any network in the world.”
The cable news network has faced challenges gaining an audience in the U.S., partly because Americans may remember it as the forum for Osama bin Laden’s video messages after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Al Jazeera had since hired big-name personalities such as former CNN anchors Soledad O’Brien and Ali Velshi to help build its U.S. brand.
In June, AT&T Inc. settled a lawsuit over its refusal to carry Al Jazeera’s U.S. cable-news channel on its pay-television service. The accord allowed Al Jazeera America onto AT&T’s U-verse pay-TV service as part of the settlement, two people familiar with the agreement said at the time.
The case is Gore v. Al Jazeera, CA10040, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).