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3 December 2002, 11:53 am
Will Team New Zealand Testify?
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Team New Zealand©Ivor Wilkins

America's Cup

In the case against OneWorld Challenge re-opened jointly by Prada and Team Dennis Conner, Team New Zealand's role in the whole saga has been a matter of some curiosity.
The America's Cup defenders have made it clear that they are not an applicant in the new case, but they are inevitably involved in it.

In bringing the latest action against OneWorld, Prada and Team Dennis Conner have relied heavily on the detailed affidavits prepared by Sean Reeves, a former rules adviser to Team New Zealand who was involved in recruiting personnel and setting up the OneWorld Challenge in 2000.

Those affidavits were originally given to Team New Zealand by Reeves, after his falling out with OneWorld and the legal battles that ensued.

As the five-man Arbitration Panel prepares to travel to Auckland for a special weekend hearing of the Prada / Team Dennis Conner case, the parties involved are closeted in their various compounds with teams of lawyers and rules advisers working on their submissions.

Team New Zealand has also prepared a submission, which outlines its position and gives some insight into why the Cup defenders, who, on the face of it, were the biggest victims of lost secrets, did not initiate a case themselves.

At the heart of the matter are allegations that OneWorld was in possession of design information from three 2000 Cup syndicates, Team New Zealand, Prada, and America True. The bulk of the allegations concern information relating to Team New Zealand's victorious NZL-57 and NZL-60 designs.

Late last year, OneWorld conducted an internal review, admitted several breaches of the protocol and essentially threw themselves at the mercy of the Arbitration Panel. At the time, Team New Zealand tried to expand the scope of the Panel's enquiry beyond the confines of the OneWorld confession, but this was declined, as was a request for a hearing, where witnesses could be cross-examined.

Instead, the Panel ruled on the issues raised by OneWorld and imposed a one point penalty to be applied at the end of the opening double round robin of the Louis Vuitton Cup. The Panel indicated that if Team New Zealand wanted a wider inquiry, the Cup defenders should make a fresh submission.

This raises one of the intriguing questions surrounding this whole affair. As the Cup champions, their design secrets were highly desirable and, on the evidence so far, more of their material found its way into OneWorld than any other team. Yet, Team New Zealand did not bring a new case.

Although this is not outlined in the current submission, it is understood the prime reason was financial. With a very tight budget and facing arguably the most powerful line-up of challengers in Cup history, Team New Zealand felt it could not afford either the distraction, or the potential cost of a legal battle against a team funded by billionaires.

Conversely, however, there are obvious attractions for Team New Zealand in having this matter fully aired, hence the efforts to widen the scope of the original enquiry and also the willingness to testify in this weekend's hearing, if required.

The Team New Zealand submission prepared this week outlines that during the first Arbitration Panel case last May, efforts were made to obtain a detailed affidavit from Reeves. Reeves indicated he would supply an affidavit, but only after 1 June, when he believed he would cease to be bound by confidentiality obligations to OneWorld.

But, the Panel declined Team New Zealand's request for more time to produce the affidavit. According to the Team New Zealand submission, this meant the Cup defender "could take the issue no further".

On June 9, Reeves did furnish Team New Zealand with a detailed affidavit, but by then the OneWorld case was closed.

Having considered the case, the Arbitration Panel delayed making a finding for several months, while issues of indemnity for individual panel members were resolved. Then, in August, another row erupted over a package of designs returned by Reeves to Team New Zealand. OneWorld initiated a new action against Team New Zealand, but this was withdrawn several days later without the Arbitration Panel having to consider it.

One of the conditions of withdrawing that case was that Team New Zealand would acknowledge that all issues in ACAP 01/8 (the original case) were dealt with and resolved. "Although as a pre-condition, Team New Zealand expressly reserved the right to raise or respond to other issues, Team New Zealand did give that acknowledgement in order to resolve the application," according to their latest submission.

"It is for this reason that no further steps have been taken by Team New Zealand in respect of the allegations of Mr Reeves."

Accordingly, Team New Zealand is not an applicant in the current Prada / Team Dennis Conner case.

However, in its submission Team New Zealand advises the Panel that it would be prepared to provide any evidence or witnesses that might be required in the new case. It notes that Prada and Team Dennis Conner have already requested that Team New Zealand make available plans and design details relating to its 2000-generation mast fittings.

Team New Zealand agrees to make these documents available, along with appropriate members of the team to answer any questions arising from them, on condition that their confidentiality is protected.

The case will be heard in Auckland this Saturday and Sunday and OneWorld had until 5pm today to lodge their submissions.
Ivor Wilkins
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