Adidas-Salomon, the German-based sporting goods giant, is at the centre of a £40m ($56.5m) lawsuit brought by its former distributor for the Caribbean, Central America and parts of Latin America.

The distributor, a Dutch entrepreneur called Ron van Hal, had sole rights to supply footwear and other clothing products to the region and did business with adidas for six years - until, he claims, an employee of his company, Rebound International, stole his client list and gave it to the sportswear company. Adidas took this as an opportunity to cut out the middleman - him.

Mr Van Hal, who earned around $990,399 in commission each month from his Panama-based business, said that he had done "sterling work" for adidas. Figures lodged with the Landesgericht Court in Nuremberg, Germany, seem to bear him out.

In 1998 he had combined sales of $90m.But the exclusive agreement ended suddenly, and now he is suing the company, claiming it breached its contracts with him. Because his agreements were signed in Germany, the lawsuit is taking place there and adidas has until 20 December to respond to his claims, having refused once to settle out of court.

Observers say other companies such as Nike and Puma are watching the case with interest, as they have similar sole distribution rights with entrepreneurs that they might be keen to renegotiate or terminate.

Van Hal's total compensation claim could exceed $56.5m for countries including Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala, all the British Caribbean islands, Costa Rica and Panama. He has not ruled out the possibility of a further lawsuit against the former female employee he claims "stole" his client list and then sold it to adidas.

Adidas, based in Herzogenrauch, Germany, had no comment on the lawsuit.