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Wine, Vodka Makers Sued by Distributor

March 28, 1985|BRUCE KEPPEL | Times Staff Writer

Whitbread U.S. Holdings and its Buckingham Corp. subsidiary sued the makers of Mouton Cadet wines and Finlandia vodka Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York over loss of Buckingham's distribution rights for their beverages.

Whitbread, which bought Buckingham last November from Beatrice Cos., seeks $145 million from the subsidiary's former suppliers, Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. and Oy Alko Ab. Separately, Buckingham filed for $80 million in damages from attorneys Abraham and Joel Buchman and their Manhattan law firm, charging that, while representing Buckingham, they secretly helped a former Buckingham executive take over distribution of the Mouton Cadet and Finlandia brands.

Neither Buchman was available Wednesday evening for comment on the lawsuit filed against them.

Alleges Misrepresentation

Whitbread claims that between last August, when negotiations over the purchase of Buckingham began with Beatrice, and last January, Rothschild and Alko misrepresented their intentions regarding their distribution contracts, which provided for termination in case of a change in control. Rothschild and Alko, the suit charges, sought the sale so that they could distribute their products through Principal Imports Ltd., a joint venture formed last August and run by Stephen I. Karp, then Buckingham's senior vice president of sales.

Buckingham has already sued Karp, and a hearing is set for April 12 on a temporary injunction preventing him from taking over the Rothschild and Alko business.

Whitbread maintains that it had been assured by both Rothschild and Alko that they were considering continuing the distribution agreements with Buckingham after the firm's sale to Whitbread while, in reality, they had already decided to terminate them.

Whitbread imports and distributes premium spirits, wines, liqueurs, champagne and cognac, and it manufactures and markets spirits under the Fleischmann and Highland labels.

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