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Final arguments begin in B.C. court over Vancouver Canucks ownership brawl @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER - Three of B.C.'s business heavyweights sat far apart in a cavernous courtroom Monday as their lawyers launched into final arguments that could change the ownership face of the Vancouver Canucks.

On one side of the room sat Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie, their pals and business associates.

On the other side of the 160-seat courtroom sat Canucks owner Franceso Aquilini, now a bitter enemy but once a friend of the other two whose father had a long business relationship with Gaglardi's father.

Lawyer Irwin Nathanson, representing Gaglardi and Beedie, told the judge Aquilini behaved egregiously, deliberately destroying the partnership by secretly negotiating the hockey team for himself, then covering up with lies.

The case revolves around the November 2004 deal in which former team owner John McCaw sold 50 per cent of the Canucks to Aquilini with a right for Aquilini to buy the remainder, which Aquilini did last year.

Beedie and Gaglardi say Aquilini had no right to enter into negotiations with McCaw.

"The relationship in this case between Gaglardi and Beedie and Aquilini is clear," said Nathanson, whose final arguments were interrupted twice by Aquilini's lawyer. .

"It's equally clear that Aquilini was secretly negotiating with Orca Bay (McCaw's company) while the negotiations with Gaglardi and Beedie were ongoing."

Nathanson told the judge he had viewed the other side's submissions since both sides are required to exchange their final arguments.

"What complicates and distinguishes this case is the egregious conduct of the defendants," he said.

"The evidence supports a finding that Franceso Aquilini as a former partner, assisted by Orca Bay, knowingly destroyed the partnership business."

In strong language, Nathanson said the case was one "where the defendants appreciated that their conduct was unlawful and set about to cover it up with lies."

The lawyer suggested that the evidence in court given by Aquilini, McCaw and Stan McCammon, McCaw's assistant, represented what Nathanson said "is a collective shuffle around the truth . . . a unique and telling performance."

About 40 spectators, mostly friends, relatives and business associates of the three antagonists sat in the courtroom, which was built specially for the lengthy Air India bombing trial.

Nathanson said Aquilini had shown an interest for years in trying to buy the Canucks but he never got serious until he was "invited" into the group that included Gaglardi and Beedie.

He emphasized to the court that the "primary position" of the plaintiffs was that there was a partnership among the three.

But if the court disagrees, Nathanson asked it to consider alternatively that there was at least a "joint venture" involving all three.

Nathanson was interrupted only minutes into his arguments when Aquilini's lawyer, Hein Poulus, objected to the way Nathanson characterized some of the evidence.

Later, Poulus stood up again and the judge asked him to reserve his arguments until he delivers his final argument.

Earlier in the trial, the court heard that McCaw, a billionaire from Seattle, was losing about $20 million a year keeping the Canucks afloat and found himself the 100-per-cent owner of the team and GM Place as a result of circumstances.

McCaw never wanted full ownership of the team and he wanted to sell some or all of the franchise by 1999.

In 2003, consulting firm KPMG concluded the only people likely to successfully reach a deal to purchase the team were Gaglardi and Beedie.

The Gaglardi family owns Northland Properties with interests in hotels, restaurant chains and real estate. The Beedie group is the largest landlord of industrial property in British Columbia.

By November 2003, the group was in active discussions with Stan McCammon, the CEO of Orca Bay, McCaw's company that owned the Canucks.

The group had agreed that Gaglardi would act on its behalf and that all understood that any information obtained by one of them would be shared by the others.

But cracks began to appear in January 2004 after Gaglardi found out that Aquilini had met directly with McCammon, Nathanson told the court during the trial.

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