Northern Ireland news

Carl Frampton's legal action against Barry McGuigan to be heard in Belfast

Belfast Boxer Carl Frampton attends Belfast High Court with his solicitor John Finucane. Picture: Mal McCann 

Former world champion Carl Frampton's legal action against ex-manager and promoter Barry McGuigan can be heard in Belfast, a judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Horner held that the Northern Ireland High Court has jurisdiction to determine his lawsuit over allegedly withheld earnings.

The Belfast fighter is suing Barry McGuigan, his wife Sandra McGuigan and Cyclone Promotions (UK) Ltd, claiming a failure to pay purse money from his bouts.

Issuing a verdict on where the case should be heard, the judge said: "Northern Ireland is the centre of gravity in this dispute."

A date for the trial could now be fixed once checks are carried out on the availability of witnesses.

The writ forms the basis of Mr Frampton's counter-claim to separate legal proceedings brought against him by the McGuigan family-run Cyclone Promotions at the High Court in London.

Nicknamed 'The Jackal', the 31-year-old former two-weight world champion split with Cyclone last summer.

He is facing an action from his former promoters for alleged breach of contract.

It will now be a matter for the English court to decide if it should hear the claim brought in London by Clones Promotions, and whether it is the more appropriate forum for all the disputes.

The Tigers Bay-born fighter is counter-suing on a number of grounds, including an alleged appropriation of fight earnings and a breach of the terms of an International Promotional Agreement (IPA).

His lawsuit refers to contracts for bouts in Northern Ireland, England and the United States.

It involves claims against the now dissolved Cyclone Promotions UK Ltd, of which Mr and Mrs McGuigan were directors, over purse fees, broadcasting rights, ticket sales and merchandising from Mr Frampton's second world title match against Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas last year.

During the preliminary hearing on jurisdiction it was alleged that Mr Frampton's deteriorating relationship with his former manager and promoter ended after the taxman called at the boxer's home about a company VAT bill for almost £400,000.

By the time they parted the boxer believed Mr McGuigan was "ripping him off and concealing it", the court heard.

Mr Frampton also said the cracks first appeared when he was allegedly "fobbed off" about being paid after defeating rival Scott Quigg in Februay 2016.

In a sworn statement he accused Mr McGuigan of abusing the trust he placed in him to look after his career.

Lawyers for the McGuigans insisted all of the allegations are categorically denied.

Accompanied by his parents, Craig and Flo, Mr Frampton was present for the ruling on the proper venue for his action.

He sat impassive as the judge paid tribute to his successes in the ring, and how they had united a troubled city and country.

"Both Northern Ireland's Protestant and Catholic communities have celebrated the success of this local lad and have rejoiced in his good fortune," Mr Justice Horner acknowledged.

He referred to the fighter's background, being raised in a fiercely loyalist area before marrying Christine Frampton, who was brought up in the staunchly nationalist neighbourhood of Poleglass in west Belfast.

According to the judge Mr Frampton was following in the "very large footsteps" of his ex-manager, a Catholic who married a Protestant, fought as 'The Clones Cyclone' and also united a divided Northern Ireland when he became world boxing champion.

"Both the Jackal and the Clones Cyclone can rightly claim to be boxing legends," he said.

"Their adulation knows no petty religious or political divides.

"Both men are defiantly non-sectarian and both have achieved not only enormous success in the boxing ring but have also helped in healing religious and political divides in a troubled province."

But he pointed out that the two men have now "fallen out big time".  

During the hearing the court was told the name of Mr McGuigan's son Blain, who had previously performed in an indie rock band, was included on a promotional agreement with the boxer.

Counsel for Mr Frampton claimed this was to mask a conflict from Barry McGuigan acting as both manager and promoter at that point.

He argued there had been a lack of transparency in arrangements for the income from his client's bouts and a "vagueness" about the Cyclone finances.

Mr Justice Horner was told the boxer claims doubts about his relationship with Mr McGuigan first emerged in the build up to the pay per view title unification fight with Scott Quigg.

In an affidavit Mr Frampton said he and his wife Christine noticed the McGuigan family, their wives and girlfriends were putting everything on the account.

The purse from the bout was to be split 57.5%-42.5% in his favour, he stated.

Referring to his inquiries about being paid months after the fight, he claimed "I was fobbed off" and told his opponent's promoters were "messing around" over money.

According to Mr Frampton, however, Scott Quigg was paid before him.

Moving forward to the summer 2017, the fighter's barrister claimed this was the point of his client's "realisation or belief that the McGuigans were ripping him off and concealing it".

At that stage he was preparing to face Andres Gutierrez in Belfast - a bout ultimately called off when the Mexican slipped and injured himself in the shower.

Mr Frampton was said to be training for the Gutierrrez fight scheduled for July 29 when the Revenue attended his home in Belfast with a demand for £397,000.

The visit related to allegedly unpaid VAT by a Northern Ireland-registered Cyclone Promotions company.

Mr Frampton resigned as a director in the company at that point and appointed an independent accountant, the court heard.

With breach of trust claimed by the fighter, he also alleged in his affidavit: "It's my belief that Barry McGuigan and the McGuigan family abused the trust I placed in them in respect of my career as a boxer.

"Barry McGuigan was in a position where I expected him to safeguard my interests."

He further claimed that Sandra McGuigan assisted her husband in making undisclosed financial gain.

The court was also told of disputed allegations Mr Frampton's parents lodged up to £1 million into Mr McGuigan's bank account in Belfast.

The cash had been raised through selling tickets to their son's bouts - although the defendants have put the figure at around £220,000.

Mr Frampton alleged the McGuigans "took advantage" of his parents by asking them to lodge large sums of money into the account.

Lawyers for the McGuigans argued that the case should be dealt in London along with Cyclone's suit.

However, the judge concluded that the court in Northern Ireland has jurisdiction to hear Mr Frampton's claims.

"Frampton is a Belfast fighter who was born, bred and who lives in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Most of the income generated from his fights has been generated in Northern Ireland. Cyclone Promotions is a Northern Ireland company."

Concluding that the High Court in Belfast can offer an expeditious trial, with litigation less expensive than in London, he added: "I have no hesitation in concluding that... Northern Ireland and in particular Belfast, is most closely connected with this dispute." 

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