A Miss World gala dinner and an ugly row over £500,000

A glimpse behind the scenes of the troubled Miss World beauty pageant emerged in the High Court yesterday when a Nigerian businesswoman claimed that the organisers owed her more than £500,000.

Angela Onyeador, a promoter and art dealer, alleged that she was owed the money after underwriting a Miss World gala dinner at the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, central London, two years ago.

Julia Morley, the organiser of the Miss World contest, has denied the claims, alleging that Ms Onyeador was acting on a "corrupt motive" as she signed deals to back the dinner.

The legal action launched by Ms Onyeador relates to the most troubled year in the history of the pageant. The 2002 event was hastily relocated from Nigeria to London after hundreds were killed in riots sparked by comments about the contest in a Nigerian newspaper.

While Ms Onyeador won an order freezing the assets of the company behind the contest immediately after the gala dinner two years ago, the full details of the row came to light yesterday at the opening of the High Court case.

The court heard that Ms Onyeador claimed to have lost £500,000 as a result of her involvement in the gala dinner at the Grosvenor House in November 2002. The claim centres on an agreement made between Ms Onyeador and the company Allianz Nigeria Ltd in relation to the organisation of the event.

Acting on behalf of the Miss World organisation, Ms Onyeador agreed to provide £200,000 as guarantor in return for 60 per cent of the profits, according to her counsel Rupert D'Cruz.

Miss World had signed an agreement with Allianz to stage the dinner, but the contract stated that the "ultimate control of events rests with Miss World".

As well as her complaints surrounding the £200,000 guarantee, Ms Onyeador also alleged that the pageant organ- isers had reneged on their promise that the event would be attended by Prince Philip.

She claimed to have been assured that the dinner would provide an opportunity to promote the Nigerian artists and charities she represented but that there were no members of the Royal family among the guests present at the dinner.

However, Mrs Morley has questioned the agreement signed between Miss Onyeador and Allianz.

According to papers lodged by Edmund Cullen, representing Mrs Morley,the agreement between Miss Onyeador and Allianz included proposals that profits from the charity gala dinner would have been "artificially and deceitfully" reduced.

The legal action launched yesterday recalled the difficulties faced by the organisers of the contest throughout the 2002 event.

Plans to stage the event in Nigeria were first threatened when a group of contestants, led by Miss Denmark, announced that they were boycotting the contest in protest at Nigeria's decision to condemn a woman to death by stoning for having a child outside marriage.

When the Nigerian government promised not to carry out the sentence, the contestants acquiesced and the organisers went ahead with the event.

However, violence erupted with the appearance of an article in a Nigerian newspaper in which it was claimed that the Prophet Muhammad would have approved of the contest and that he may have even taken one of the contestants as his bride. The piece prompted widespread riots, leading to the deaths of more than 200 people, as well as the relocation of the event to London at the 11th hour.

The hearing continues.