Francesco Aquilini, Vancouver Canucks billionaire owner bids to keep lid on divorce case

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

There's an inexhaustible public appetite for stories about the marital woes of the rich and famous, especially when they're tussling over money.

The fact one of the parties owns one of North America's most successful sports franchises adds extra spice to the mix.

Vancouver billionaire Francesco Aquilini is asking the B.C. Supreme Court to restrict publication of the financial details of his divorce proceedings as he and estranged wife Taliah battle over assets and child custody.

According to the Vancouver Province, Aquilini wants to ban access to things in the court file that are normally available to the public and media, including reasons for judgment, court orders, affidavits and transcripts.

His lawyers argue the case is likely to attract substantial local and national media attention because Aquilini is chairman of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks.

The case is already being followed by international sports media, such as NBC Sports ProHockey blog, which reported rumours the split might affect Aquilini's ownership stake in the team.

For sports fans, the case brings to mind the ugly battle over the fate of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers when owner Frank McCourt divorced his wife last year. He eventually sold the team as part of the settlement.

[ Related: Feds ask McCourts for documents ]

The Aquilini court file would also give business competitors access to financial information about Aquilini's diverse operations, including the team.

"Serious harm would flow to that business if its financial information were made publicly available," the court application says.

Francesco Aquilini is said to be worth $5 billion, based on his privately held businesses that include commercial and residential real estate and farms the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver.

Forbes magazine puts the value of the Canucks at $300 million, No. 7 among NHL franchises. Aquilini bought the club in 2005 for $207 million.

The Vancouver Sun noted sports-business commentator Tom Mayenknecht thinks Forbes has undervalued the Canucks. He puts the operation's worth at $500 million, including Rogers Arena and the adjacent property, which the family owns and plans to develop.

Aquilini's court application also claims there's a risk of harm to the couple's five children unless restrictions are put in place.

When Taliah Aquilini filed for access to the exact value of her husband's holdings, she joined him in promising the divorce case would not hurt the Canucks.

"She has no intention of upsetting the operation of the Vancouver Canucks, and has every confidence in (general manager) Mike Gillis and the management team," she said in a statement, according to the Province.

"In accordance with the property division laws of British Columbia, she is pursuing her legal rights to her proper share of the assets of this family.

"She is hopeful that they will be able to resolve their divorce in an amicable manner."