TAMPA, FLA. -- Investors who helped finance the salvage of artifacts from the RMS Titanic are suing a business associate for $300 million, claiming they were cheated out of profits from the venture.
The suit also seeks an emergency court order to block the Oct. 28 broadcast in this country of the televised opening of a safe from the sunken liner, a program from France titled "Return to the Titanic ... Live."
The suit was filed Monday in federal court on behalf of a French citizen and a group of Florida promoters and investors.
The suit alleges investor-financier Carlos Piaget conspired to transfer stock in Oceanic Research and Exploration Ltd., the British company that financed the French expedition, to a limited partnership called Titanic Ventures, which was formed last July in Connecticut.
According to the suit, Titanic Ventures was set up by Piaget, a former Tampa resident and Swiss watch heir, Connecticut businessman George Tulloch, and John Joslyn, president of the Westgate film production company in Hollywood.
The suit says the new partnership now claims sole rights to artifacts salvaged from the Titanic this past summer.
It was filed by five promoters and investors led by Michael Harris, 52, of Tampa, who claims there was no authority to transfer shares. Harris produced a 1980 film, "Search for the Titanic."
Harris asks for 54 percent of all past and future profit derived from the Titanic, or for $300 million compensation.
"If we get control, what we plan is a world tour similar to the King Tut exhibit," said Elio Muller Jr., a Harris attorney. "We have projections of $560 million in proceeds."
Harris says in the filing that he and Piaget created Oceanic Research and Exploration and later distributed some of their shares to other partners, including Harris' son, Gerald Michael Harris, Orlando promoter Mike Robinson, Tampa mortgage broker Robert Blanco and French financier George Crosz.
But last July 28, the suit says, Piaget broke the deal, then represented himself to Tulloch and Joslyn as the sole owner of Oceanic's stock.
Also named in the suit are Westgate Productions; LBS Communications of New York, the syndicator of the TV show in this country; and all television stations scheduled to carry the show.
The two-hour TV show, with Telly Savalas as host, is to include documentary footage as well as interviews with Titanic survivors and others. At the end of the show, the purser's safe and a valise found near the ship are to be opened.
According to a crew member from the Titanic expedition, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition he not be identified, the leather case contains jewelry set with precious gems, including a ring with about nine large diamonds.