The Australian man who helped tech billionaire Peter Thiel bankrupt the news website Gawker by funding a defamation case brought by pro wrestler Hulk Hogan has launched legal action against his former business partner.
Aron D’Souza, who was dubbed “Mr A” in media coverage of the Gawker case, is suing his former business partner, Phillip Kingston, and two tax-haven companies for allegedly failing to pay $2m due to him after he sold out of financial services company Sargon Capital.
D’Souza and Kingston founded Sargon in 2015 with grand plans to revolutionise superannuation and other financial services through the use of technology, and recruited a star-studded board that includes former Crown Resorts chairman Rob Rankin and Labor right powerbroker Stephen Conroy in preparation for a hoped-for float on the stock exchange that would value the company at $1bn. However, in July D’Souza quit the Sargon board.
This followed an agreement struck in January last year that he would sell his Sargon shares – a deal that is at the heart of a lawsuit filed by a company controlled by D’Souza in the Victorian supreme court on Wednesday.
D’Souza’s court filings do not reveal who was to buy his stake in Sargon or what they were to pay for it, but in them he alleges the deal was guaranteed by Kingston personally, as well as by a Hong Kong company called Trimantium, which company documents show Kingston owns and controls, and a British Virgin Islands company called Explosive Growth.
Part of the agreement was that his company would receive a series of “deferred” payments, D’Souza claims. He claims two payments due in November and December and totalling $2m were not paid and has asked the court to order Kingston, Trimantium and Explosive Growth to hand over the money, plus interest calculated at 8% a year.
Kingston said via a spokeswoman: “I am surprised to hear this and will need to look into it further.”
D’Souza has been contacted for comment through his lawyer, Corrs Chambers Westgarth partner Matthew Critchley, who said his client was travelling.
The Oxford-educated D’Souza shot to prominence in 2018 when Buzzfeed reported he was the mastermind of Thiel’s elaborate plot to destroy Gawker by funding Hogan’s defamation lawsuit.
Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, launched the lawsuit in Florida in 2012 over Gawker’s publication of parts of a video of him having sex with the then-wife of his friend, radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge.
In 2016, a jury awarded Hogan US$140m. Gawker filed for bankruptcy protection because it could not afford to lodge a US$50m appeal bond.
Most of Gawker’s assets were bought by Univision, but the main Gawker website was shut down.
Thiel, a venture capitalist and Facebook board member who is a supporter of Donald Trump, secretly funded the Hogan lawsuit to the tune of US$10m. The website had long been a critic of Thiel, venture capitalism and the culture of Silicon Valley, and in 2007 published a piece headlined “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people”.
D’Souza came up with the idea of funding a lawsuit against Gawker and acted as a conduit between Thiel and the lawyer who ran the case, Charles Harder, Buzzfeed reported.
He is also the co-founder, with Kingston, of Good Super, a retail super fund which offers ethical investment options that screen out companies involved in “tobacco, weapons and armaments, gambling, alcohol, pornography and human rights abuses” and, according to his website, is honorary consul of the Republic of Moldova.
His biggest venture with Kingston was Sargon, which has steadily gobbled up other financial services companies since it was founded in 2015. In April last year Sargon reportedly hired UBS and Deutsche Bank to help it prepare for a stock market float by the end of the year. However, the company is yet to have an initial public offering.
Accounts filed with the corporate regulator show that in the 2017-18 financial year it declared a loss of $5.6m, down from $18.7m the previous year.