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Billionaire Divorcee Can’t Hide from English Justice – Even On His Luxury Yacht

It is sadly common for divorcees, particularly in big money cases, to seek to avoid their responsibilities by concealing their assets behind a web of offshore companies. However, as one High Court case strikingly showed, neither the corporate veil nor national boundaries are an effective barrier to English judges’ relentless pursuit of such people.

SuperyachtThe case concerned a Russian billionaire who had been ordered to pay his ex-wife a lump sum of £350 million. He had also been directed to transfer various assets to her, including a £90 million modern art collection, bringing the total value of her award to £453 million.

The husband had, however, adopted a cavalier attitude to English family justice and had taken steps to disperse his assets amongst a number of companies registered in overseas tax havens. The wife’s lawyers obtained a worldwide asset freezing order against him and launched proceedings in various jurisdictions. They had succeeded in setting aside the transfer of various assets, including the art collection, a private jet and a helicopter.

One of the principle assets against which the wife’s lawyers sought to enforce her rights was a luxury yacht, valued at more than £180 million, that the husband had caused to be re-registered in the Marshall Islands. Title to the yacht had been shifted between a bewildering array of offshore companies, ending up in the hands of a Liechtenstein anstalt.

In piercing the corporate veil and ordering the yacht’s transfer to the wife, the Court found that the anstalt, and other companies involved in the chain of transactions, were mere ciphers and alter egos of the husband, who had at all times been the yacht’s beneficial owner. The transactions, one of which involved a dummy sale of the yacht to a Panamanian company, were redolent of the husband’s elaborate campaign to evade and frustrate his ex-wife’s just entitlements.

Probably in the mistaken belief that Dubai lay well beyond the reach of the English courts, the husband had made the mistake of placing the yacht in dry dock there to undergo maintenance. However, the English judgment was enforceable in the emirate and the vessel had already been impounded. The Court’s decision opened the way for the wife’s lawyers to pursue proceedings in Dubai with a view to enforcing the yacht’s sale in part satisfaction of the husband’s debt.

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