A Venezuelan owner of the Miami Marlins formed the British Virgin Islands holding company that team lawyers are using to try and avoid a Miami courtroom in a legal dispute with the county, according to a new affidavit.
Tobias Enrique Carrero, president of a baseball team in Venezuela whose family owns a large insurance company there, made a splash last fall as one of the partners that team CEO Derek Jeter and majority owner Bruce Sherman tapped to help buy the franchise for $1.2 billion from Jeffrey Loria. The court filing is the first time the team has named Carrero as the owner of the BVI entity at the heart of a court fight over where to hear a lawsuit Miami-Dade filed against the Marlins and Loria over a profit-sharing deal tied to the 2018 sale.
The filing naming Carrero was first reported by ESPN's Darren Rovell.
Officially, the Marlins hadn't even identified Carrero as an owner before the filing in federal court. But the Venezuelan has identified himself as one, given interviews, mingled in the owners box at Marlins Park and attended spring training events with other Major League Baseball partners.
Carrero's family owns the Bravos de Margarita, a pro team that's part of the sports scene in a dictatorship suffering through extreme commodity shortages and a currency crisis. In interviews, Carrero described his role as part of the Jeter organization's efforts to expand Major League Baseball's appeal throughout Latin America. He also said he hoped to improve the Marlins' standing at home, given Miami's large Venezuelan community.
"We know the Latin culture, and because of our work in Venezuela, we know what [Latin baseball fans] may like," he told El Emergente in Spanish during an October interview. "How to attack that specific audience, and see what we can contribute to improve" the fan experience.
The court filing is the latest installment of the Marlins' legal gambit to use a foreign owner to avoid having the litigation heard in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. In March, the Marlins cited an international agreement governing disputes between entities in different countries to have the case heard in federal court instead of before a Miami-Dade judge.
A federal court would also give the Marlins and Loria a clearer path to arbitration, which would keep much of the dispute out of the public eye.
Team lawyers based their argument on Abernue, a holding company formed in the British Virgin Islands to buy an undisclosed share in the team as part of the Sherman-led purchase in October. Because Abernue owned part of the entity that bought the team, Marlins Teamco LLC, then Marlins Teamco "is a citizen of the British Virgin Islands" as well, Marlins lawyers said.
Miami-Dade lawyers ridiculed the argument by a team playing in a Little Havana ballpark owned by the county and served by Miami-owned parking garages. The two governments are suing to collect a share of the proceeds from the Loria sale, citing a profit-sharing clause in the 2009 agreement with the team to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds on the new ballpark.
Loria's lawyers said the profit-sharing formula in the agreement, which allows a string of deductions, resulted in a paper loss of about $140 million on the $1.2 billion sale.
The Carrero reveal came in a three-paragraph affidavit in which the owner acknowledged creating Abernue in the British Virgin Islands, and saying the entity's sole purpose is to own a stake in the Marlins.
"The only major decision made by Abernue was the decision to invest in the Miami Marlins," Carrero said in his signed statement. "Abernue has not made any other decisions concerning its investment in the Miami Marlins." Carrero said that the decision to purchase the team "was made in Panama City, Panama."
The filing actually saw the Marlins back off its BVI claim. While Abernue is legally based in the British Virgin Islands, team lawyers said they needed to amend their original filing to acknowledge that the company's "principal place of business is in Panama."
The court papers don't elaborate on why Carrero opted to conduct business in Panama for the Marlins deal. However, seizing private assets has remained a significant risk in Venezuela under President Nicolás Maduro.
Whatever the circumstances, Marlins lawyers said they couldn't be sure if Abernue should be considered a BVI company or a Panamanian company under the criteria of the foreign-disputes agreement.
"Abernue's principal place of business is either the British Virgin Islands or in Panama," the Marlins wrote, "but in all events is outside the United States."
Miami Herald staff writer Jim Wyss and El Nuevo Herald staff writer Antonio Delgado contributed to this report.