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Briatore goes for Minardi

BENETTON boss Flavio Briatore had the Minardi Scuderia Italia F1 team seized last week at Magny-Cours by French bailiffs. Briatore claims that Minardi owes a company he controls $3.15 million for a supply of engines Briatore arranged for Minardi in 1993 and 1994.

Minardi had received a demand for the money earlier this month, but disputes Briatore's claims. The Commercial Tribunal in Nevers decided to seize Minardi's trucks, motorhomes and equipment last Thursday afternoon. This meant that the team was unable to take part in Friday qualifying for the French Grand Prix, while Minardi's lawyers applied to the court to have the injunction lifted. This was successful and the team was able to run on Saturday on the understanding that the equipment would be seized again after the race on Sunday night.

The dispute between Minardi and Briatore dates back to a deal struck at Monza in September 1992 when Giancarlo Minardi met Briatore and Cosworth's Dick Scammell and agreed that Minardi would use 15 Ford HB V8 engines in 1993 and 1994. These engines had previously been used by Tom Walkinshaw Racing in its Jaguar sportcars. The deal agreed was for two years and called for the payment of $4.95million in total: $2.4m in 1993 and $2.55m in 1994. A contract was drawn up between Minardi and a company called Grand Prix Engineering & Sponsorship in Dublin, Ireland. This company is owned by a Gibraltar holding company and administered by Swiss solicitors. It is believed to be owned by Briatore and Tom Walkinshaw, although the shareholdings are impossible to trace. There was a separate contract between Minardi and Cosworth to cover the rebuilding of these engines. This included a clause allowing Cosworth to sub-contract the rebuild work to TWR.

The engines were not competitive, and as they could not be upgraded at the end of 1993, Minardi looked elsewhere for an engine supply. In the end the team merged with Beppe Lucchini's Scuderia Italia and was able to strike a deal with Cosworth for a direct supply of Ford HB V8 engines. Minardi says that it was agreed that the 1994 part of the contract would be terminated and a payment schedule was arranged to pay off the debts for the 1993 supply. This amounted to $1.05m and in the course of 1994 Minardi paid $405,000. The team stopped paying, however, when it became clear that Briatore was going to have to pay them damages for convincing Mugen Honda to break a contract with Minardi for 1995 and supply Ligier instead. During the negotiations Briatore gave Mugen Honda a written undertaking that he would settle any claims against the Japanese from Minardi. A copy of this letter was submitted to a court in Ravenna, Italy, when the Minardi-Ligier case was first heard in April this year.

In November last year Briatore telephoned Minardi and offered the team $1.5m to cancel the Mugen Honda deal. Briatore's lawyers have admitted that this conversation took place. Minardi refused the offer and has since started a law suit against Briatore in England, claiming "wrongful interference" by him in the deal. A decision in this case is expected on July 17 and may result in Briatore being ordered to pay Minardi damages.

The lawyers representing GPES in the case with Minardi told Minardi that the case would be dropped if Minardi withdrew all his law suits against Flavio Briatore. Minardi refused and told the Nevers court that he was willing to pay the $645,000 outstanding from the 1993 debt but arguing that the 1994 part of the contract is not applicable as the engines were never supplied and that a release from the contract was agreed.

The various cases are expected to continue and further action between the two parties are likely.

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