Originally created 08/13/02

$20.5 million award to promoter whose track plan fizzled

MIAMI -- Auto racing promoter Ralph Sanchez has been awarded a $20.5 million judgment against the Aruban government for scuttling his plans to develop a Formula One track on the Dutch Caribbean island.

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King decided the Arubans bargained in bad faith and committed misconduct in the final stage of track negotiations.

The decision is the result of legal actions and countersuits filed in the United States and Aruba.

Sanchez claimed Aruba's prime minister and finance minister initially backed the project but later broke the government's financial commitments. The Aruban government claimed it was a victim of fraud and lost $600,000.

"I had hoped to bring world-class auto racing to the island to boost its image and tourism," said Sanchez, promoter of the Grand Prix of Miami and developer of the Homestead Motorsports Complex. "It is unfortunate that the government of Aruba did not have the same vision."

Ronald Ravikoff, who represented the Aruban government, said the bench trial was a unique application of Dutch law in a U.S. court and an appeal is likely.

"Judge King had a difficult job in front of him, ruling under foreign law when the case was in a foreign language," Ravikoff said.

King rejected the Arubans' fraud claim and concluded two companies owned by Sanchez should be allowed to collect five years of estimated track profits.

Sanchez accused then-Prime Minister Hendrik Eman and former Finance Minister Robertico Croes of undermining the project.

The planned track was near an area declared a conservation trust in 1996. Environmentalists campaigned against the project, claiming it would cause air, water and noise pollution and collapse the tunnels of an abandoned phosphate mine.

Aruba, located off the coast of Venezuela, has about 90,000 residents.


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