Sunday Herald Sun - - News - JOHN ROLFE

CELEBRITY chef David Evans has launched a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar law­suit, claim­ing ri­val Matt Mo­ran’s com­pany cheated with the help of a dou­ble­cross­ing ar­chi­tect to win the rights to run Sydney’s Opera Bar.

Evans was left seething in 2014 af­ter he ploughed more than $300,000 into his bid to win a 10-year lease for the bar at the foot of the Sydney Opera House, only to lose to Mo­ran’s com­pany, Solo­tel.

He now claims Mo­ran won thanks to a rigged ten­der process, and the long-sim­mer­ing ten­sions be­tween the pair are set to spill into the NSW Supreme Court.

Mr Mo­ran, a TV cook­ing judge, re­jected the claim.

“The ten­der process as far as we were con­cerned was le­git TRIVAGO could face a fine of $10 mil­lion or more af­ter it ad­mit­ted it had mis­led Aus­tralian con­sumers with as many as 400,000 TV ads that falsely claimed high­lighted ho­tel deals were the best price.

It has also con­fessed to com­par­ing prices be­tween stan­dard and lux­ury rooms with­out telling users.

Trivago’s busi­ness is based on ag­gre­gat­ing of­fers from book­ing web­sites that pay when a con­sumer clicks on their deal.

Based in Dus­sel­dorf, Ger­many, its global rev­enue for the first nine months of 2018 was $1.15 bil­lion.

Aus­tralia is one of its big­gest mar­kets out­side Europe and the US.

The Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion filed ac­tion against Trivago in the Fed­eral Court in Au­gust and Trivago’s admissions were to the ACCC’s two key ac­cu­sa­tions.

In a court doc­u­ment, Trivago says its “low­est rate state­ments may have caused some con­sumers to form an er­ro­neous be­lief that the ini­tial search page of­fers were the low­est rates” when in truth there may have been cheaper of­fers in a “more deals” sec­tion.

In the doc­u­ment, filed on Tues­day, Trivago ad­mits it “en­gaged in con­duct in con­tra­ven­tion” of two sec­tions of con­sumer law.

The ACCC had ac­cused Trivago of mak­ing dodgy claims by com­par­ing some providers’ prices for lux­ury rooms with oth­ers’ prices for stan­dard rooms.

The lux­ury room was pre­sented in red with a “strike-through price” above another site’s stan­dard room “top po­si­tion of­fer” in green.

While Trivago de­nied fur­ther ac­cu­sa­tions made by the ACCC, it has in­sti­gated changes to its site that in­clude telling users its re­sults rank­ings are in­flu­enced by “the com­pen­sa­tion paid by the book­ing site”.

Con­sumer law ex­pert Josh Si­mons of le­gal firm Thom­son Geer said “fi­nan­cial penal­ties of $10 mil­lion or more are pos­si­ble given the num­ber of con­sumers po­ten­tially af­fected”.

The case is due to re­turn to court for a case man­age­ment hear­ing on De­cem­ber 14 in Melbourne.

In Oc­to­ber the com­pany told in­vestors it had set aside money to pay for a pos­si­ble penalty. and we won fair and square,” he said.

In June Evans launched le­gal ac­tion against the Sydney Opera House Trust as well as Dar­linghurst-based ar­chi­tect Christo­pher Les­lie Grin­ham and his firm, H & E Ar­chi­tects.

He is not su­ing Mr Mo­ran or Solo­tel.

He claims Mr Grin­ham leaked con­fi­den­tial plans and de­signs for the bar to one of Mr Mo­ran’s part­ners in their com- pany Solo­tel. Mr Grin­ham has strongly de­nied this.

The plans in­cluded Mr Evans’ bar place­ment and grand idea for a “char­cu­terie” — a meat and cheese room.

Mr Evans said he was the “David” to the Sydney Opera House Trust’s “Go­liath”.

Mr Evans is su­ing the Sydney Opera House Trust and oth­ers, ex­clud­ing Mr Mo­ran and Solo­tel. The mat­ter will re­turn to court on De­cem­ber 7.

Gabrielle Miller, the face of Trivago’s ad cam­paign, is not im­pli­cated in any breaches of the law.

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