Billionaire Mike Ashley Feared Being Jailed in Dubai, Ex-Friend Says

(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Mike Ashley, no stranger to details of his bar-room antics being discussed in court, faces an unusual new claim in a British lawsuit: He may have feared “being locked up in Dubai” over comments he made in a bar more than a decade ago.

Ashley -- who has a “completely different” account of the events -- feared the consequences of remarks in 2008 that were insulting to the Dubai royal family, the Islamic faith and the British former soccer player and manager Kevin Keegan, a former associate told a London judge. Details of the allegation against Ashley, which he denies, emerged in a judgment published Wednesday.

Tony Jimenez, the former co-owner of Charlton Athletic Football Club in south London, made the allegation in response to a London lawsuit filed by Ashley. Ashley “flatly denies that he ever made any comment about the Dubai royal family, the Islamic faith or Kevin Keegan whether as wrongly alleged by Mr Jimenez based on hearsay evidence, or at all,” his spokesperson said by email.

The Sports Direct International Plc owner “was shaking and saying he and his business empire faced ruin” after the incident, a court judgment in the early stages of a lawsuit between the two men said, citing Jimenez.

Jimenez says Ashley “came to see him at 4 a.m. on 17 September 2008 in a panic worried about being locked up in Dubai and facing adverse press reporting in the U.K.,” after making comments at the Bahri Bar in Dubai where undercover journalists were present, judge Matthew Marsh said in a judgment Wednesday.

Ashley disputes those claims, saying he was “relatively unconcerned about the incident in the bar and its consequences” and more concerned about the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. at the time “and the risk that HBOS, in which he had substantial holdings, might fail,” the judgment says.

Marsh’s judgment on Wednesday was on a pre-trial issue about jurisdiction, and not on the case itself.

Ashley “now says that he may have made a regrettable remark in the Bahri Bar, directed towards those with whom he had been in negotiation earlier that day,” Marsh said in the judgment. Jimenez, who Ashley described in previous court filings as a former friend, says the comments were “more widely directed.”

A lawyer for Ashley declined to immediately comment.

A judge found in a previous, separate case that Jimenez had lied, but “the fact that Mr. Jimenez has told lies on previous occasions, and his evidence has been found to be unreliable, does not mean he is lying in this case,” Marsh said in the ruling.

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