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In cash dodge, baseball's Miami Marlins go offshore, claiming "citizenship" in British Virgin Islands

The peculiar move is designed to internationalize a financial dispute with the City of Miami and Miami-Dade county and transfer the case from local courts to a federal judge. But it risks hurting the already battered image of one of baseball's most maligned franchises months after a popular change of ownership.
10 Abr 2018 – 03:55 PM EDT
Retired New York Yankee star Derek Jeter bought the Miami Marlins last year. Crédito: Getty Images

Many Miami baseball fans have seen enough after watching their team languish in the basement of the Major Leagues as the owner enjoyed the lavish benefits of a publically-funded stadium.

Now, in an unusual, some might say scandalous, bid to avoid forking over money to the local government, the Miami Marlins are going offshore, claiming corporate citizenship in the British Virgin Islands, according to court documents first reported by The Miami Herald.

The maneuver, a common practice by the super-rich and multi-national corporations, is designed to avoid a lawsuit by the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County to recover a share of the profits from last year's $1.2 billion sale of the team to retired New York Yankee star Derek Jeter and his partners. But going offshore, to a British island where baseball is not played, might be considered by baseball purists as a betrayal of a sport dubbed "America's national pastime."

Lawyers representing the Marlins are arguing in court that one of the team's new corporate owners, a British Virgin Islands company named Abernue Ltd., is domiciled in the Caribbean. As a result, team lawyers argue, the dispute should be considered an international matter and be transferred to a federal judge.

"Not a smart move," said longtime Miami public relations consultant who represented a former Marlins owner. " There's already a lot of resentment. We've been down too many rough roads with this baseball team," he added, referring to a bitter controversy over the construction of Marlins Stadium, which opened in 2012 at a cost to taxpayers of $500 million. The Marlins won two World Series in 1997 and 2003, only for fans to watch in horror as the team owners cashed in by selling off the best - and most loved - players.

"There was some hope that Jeter would put things back on the right track. He could destroy that in a heartbeat," said Gordon. The Marlins played in front of their smallest crowd ever at Marlins Park on Monday.

The team is now owned by 'Marlins Teamco,' the company Jeter formed with majority owner Bruce Sherman last year to buy the franchise from New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria.

"One of the members of Marlins Teamco is a corporation incorporated in the British Virgin Islands with its principal place of business in the British Virgin Islands," the Marlins wrote in the court filing last month. "Accordingly, Marlins Teamco is a citizen of the British Virgin Islands" under federal law governing treaties.

County lawyers took a swing at that argument in court documents. They assert that there's nothing international about the dispute: Marlins Park is owned by municipal government and Derek Jeter is a U.S. citizen.

"This is the most local of disputes, involving a locally-negotiated contract made between local parties under local law and requiring local performance," county lawyers wrote in arguing to keeping the lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

The legal dodge arose after a Miami-Dade judge sided with Miami and Miami-Dade County in a preliminary ruling rejecting a request for arbitration by Loria, which the former owner hopes would remove it from a potentially biased local jurisdiction.

The city and the county say they are entitled to a share of some of the profits from a team sale. But Loria claims he made a $140 million loss during his ownership of the team which he bought for $159 million in 2002. The city and county argue Jeter's new ownership group is contractually responsible to cover any outstanding financial dispute with Loria.