Friday, November 18, 2011 : GROUPE BERNARD TAPIE DEAL WITH U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ON FULL TILT POKER?
 
Embargoed press releases and deleted website entries create confusion late Thursday
 
The latest episode in the Full Tilt Poker saga had media reporters on the hop late Thursday afternoon in the United States as news broke that the prospective buyers of the embattled online poker provider, Groupe Bernard Tapie, had reached agreement on the sale with the US Department of Justice.
 
The news, issued on an embargoed release, was published prematurely by CNN and Yahoo Finance, among others, but was subsequently taken down due to the embargo.
 
Compounding the confusion, a suspicious press release apparently published Wednesday surfaced which said the deal was off.
 
The Wall Street Journal finally nailed the story down late Thursday, reporting that GBP's legal representative had confirmed that the French investor had reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that could lead to the acquisition of Full Tilt Poker for $80 million, giving GBP an opportunity to sort out the mess and operate Full Tilt's non-US business.
 
The WSJ explained that the agreement with the DoJ could free up seized funds for payment to non-US players, whilst US players would apply to the DoJ to recover their (seized) winnings and credit balances.
 
This information is consistent with "leaked" information that appeared in various online poker publications in recent weeks, quoting various lawyers acting for the parties involved in the GBP-Full Tilt-Department of Justice talks.
 
According to the Yahoo Finance report, the United States Department of Justice brokered a deal in which FTP will forfeit its assets to the U.S. government, which will then sell those assets to Groupe Bernard Tapie.
 
GBT will be responsible for paying out non-US players, and the Department of Justice will pay – on application – US players; an amount that has been estimated at $150 million.
 
It appears that the deal includes an agreement by the DoJ to dismiss the civil forfeiture proceedings against FTP, although it will not reverse the individual criminal proceedings against individuals named in the Black Friday indictments like Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Ray Bitar.
 
Early reports indicated that the agreement was also conditional on a ban on current FTP directors holding shares in the company once it has been acquired by GBP.
 
The deal will have to be approved by Full Tilt Poker shareholders, according to Benham Dayanim, a legal representative for Groupe Bernard Tapie.
 
One of the most voluble lawyers in the FTP affair, Jeff Ifrah, reportedly told Poker News:
 
"All [the embargo] means is that the reporter was not supposed to release it like she did, that’s the embargo, but the agreement itself is signed.
 
“You have to understand what it is, this is an agreement between Tapie and the government that, if the government obtains the assets of FTP, Tapie will buy them, and Tapie will pay back the world players, and the government will establish a fund to pay back the U.S. players.
 
"There is a signed agreement between the government and Tapie that dictates what the terms will be for the sale of the assets, but the government doesn’t have the assets yet, so they still need to obtain them . . . It’s not clear what has to happen for the government to obtain those assets."
 
Full Tilt Poker's chief exec, Ray Bitar, later appeared to confirm the deal in a statement to the information website PokerStrategy, which said: “I am extremely pleased with the efforts of the Department of Justice, and the Groupe Bernard Tapie corporation, and appreciate their continued dedication in working towards a mutually beneficial agreement that will facilitate repayment of the players."
 
Contacted by Poker News, the DoJ declined to comment.