Liquor giant Diageo says Sean “Diddy” Combs has become so “toxic” in the wake of three sexual assault lawsuits filed against him, it would be “unfair” for a judge to grant his request for control over an incoming $15 million marketing budget for DeLéon Tequila.
In a new letter to the court obtained by Rolling Stone, Diageo says Combs plans to plaster his face on new ads for the premium spirit, which would be “devastating.”
“The disturbing allegations against Mr. Combs set forth in these lawsuits underscore that any DeLeón campaign featuring Mr. Combs would compound and amplify the harm that he has already caused DeLeón,” Diageo lawyers wrote to Justice Joel M. Cohen of New York County Supreme Court in the letter dated Dec. 1. “Requiring Diageo to pay for such a campaign would be devastating to the brand and to Diageo more broadly.”
The new letter identifies Combs’ three accusers by name and comes after Diageo filed a similar letter on Nov. 17. The prior letter focused on R&B singer Cassie and her blockbuster Nov. 16 lawsuit alleging Combs raped her, beat her and forced her to have sex with other men while he watched. In its latest letter, Diageo adds the two other women who stepped forward on Nov. 23. One of the women alleged Combs drugged and sexually assaulted her and then showed video of the assault to others. The other woman alleged Combs and singer Aaron Hall took turns raping her and her friend in the early Nineties. She claimed Combs tracked her down a couple days later and choked her until she passed out.
Diageo’s lawyers say the two additional lawsuits “drew even more negative media attention toward Mr. Combs,” leading him to step down, at least temporarily, from his chairmanship of Revolt. They said a major DeLéon-themed party in Atlanta was cancelled after the Cassie news broke, and then Combs reportedly was dropped by the charter school in Harlem that he cofounded after the other two lawsuits followed.
“Mr. Combs is well-aware that these lawsuits make it impossible for him to continue to be the ‘face’ of anything,” the Diageo lawyers wrote. “It would be unfair and beyond reason to require Diageo to deepen its association with Mr. Combs concerning DeLeón when so many others are fleeing his now-toxic image.”
The judge has yet to rule on Combs’ Oct. 27 request for a court order that would bar Diageo from “interfering” with his right to “control and direct” how the incoming $15 million promotional budget for DonLéon tequila would be spent in the current fiscal year. Combs claimed Diageo was “unilaterally” trying to obstruct his “contractual right” to spend the money how he saw fit. “Diageo is also demanding, with no contractual or legal basis, that DeLeón’s advertising exclude Mr. Combs — even though Mr. Combs has served as the public face of the brand since the inception of the DeLeón (joint venture),” his filing stated.
For its part, Diageo claims Combs has proposed using some of the $15 million for salaries, which the company says is not allowed. Diageo also alleges its contract with Combs requires the music mogul to “collaborate in good faith” with the London-based beverage company and act in the best interest of their shared business.
The legal battle between Combs and Diageo dates back to May, when Combs filed an initial lawsuit claiming Diageo failed to invest proper resources in his Cîroc vodka and DeLéon tequila brand partnerships. He claimed Diageo labeled the spirits as “Black brands” and restricted them to “urban” markets. According to Combs, Diageo’s actions violated the “equal treatment” provision of their partnership.
Diageo responded by announcing the end of its association with the music mogul in June. It accused Combs of making “numerous defamatory and disparaging accusations of racism.”
“Mr. Combs’ bad-faith actions have clearly breached his contracts and left us no choice but to move to dismiss his baseless complaint and end our business relationship,” a Diageo spokesperson said in a statement in June. “Mr. Combs has repeatedly undermined our partnerships and threatened to publicly defame Diageo if we did not meet his unreasonable financial demands.”
Combs’ attorneys in the Diageo case did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment. The business mogul has denied any wrongdoing related to the sexual assault cases.
According to Diageo, it has invested more than $100 million to grow DeLeón, while Combs allegedly “contributed a total of $1,000 and refused to honor his commitments.”
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