Sunday 18 August 2019

The 'ruined' Irish millionaire, his wife, a bizarre murder plot, and the battle for his secret fortune

Andrew Ruhan was dubbed "the biggest tycoon you've never heard of" in a fascinating court battle, writes Maeve Sheehan

INTRIGUE: Andrew Ruhan and his estranged wife Tania Richardson-Ruhan pictured outside court in London
INTRIGUE: Andrew Ruhan and his estranged wife Tania Richardson-Ruhan pictured outside court in London
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

He was described in court as the biggest tycoon you've never heard of. The low-profile Irish millionaire, Andrew Ruhan, has effectively been found to have concealed his wealth in a battle with his wife over a divorce award.

Mr Ruhan, whose family is from Athenry in Co Galway, claimed he had lost virtually his entire €200m fortune to fraud, was £2m in debt and was sleeping on his yacht.

A judge has now found in favour of the property tycoon's estranged wife, Tania Richardson-Ruhan, who believed he was still "vastly wealthy".

In a judgment on the long and complicated financial wrangle delivered last Thursday, Mr Justice Mostyn supported Ms Richardson-Ruhan's claims that her husband still had access to "very large" sums of money through a business associate who acted as his nominee.

The ruling, in which Andrew Ruhan and Tania Richardson-Ruhan are referred to as husand and wife, has cleared the way for Ms Richardson-Ruhan to stake her claim to at least some of the assets identified as belonging to her husband.

The financial battle over a divorce settlement has placed a spotlight on Mr Ruhan and his myriad business interests. Born to Irish parents and raised in the UK, he spent his summers and holidays in Athenry where many of his relatives still live. His brother Gabriel, also a wealthy entrepreneur, once ran a nursing home in Loughrea, but he later joined his brother in business in the UK.

Andrew Ruhan made his fortune from property and even more from building data centres in the UK through Global Switch - a company that is now reputedly worth more than £4.4bn. Mr Ruhan earned a reputed £100m from selling the business and returned to property development. He bought a chain of Thistle hotels and flipped them for massive profits.

Despite his strong Irish connections, he has done few deals here, although he once pitched the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) for the loans on the Chicago Spire for $69m but lost out. Nama sold it to a rival for half that sum.

He is a lover of fast cars and big yachts. He flew his own helicopter to view sites he was interested in buying. When it crashed in a field on one occasion, he hauled himself from the wreckage and dragged himself to a road to flag down a passing motorist; doctors later diagnosed more than 100 fractures.

He collected vintage cars and indulged in motor racing. He won the GT Cup Championship at Brands Hatch in 2011 in a Porsche. Four years ago, he paid £1m to buy a 2pc stake in the Lotus Formula One team and joined the board. The chairman welcomed him as "a fellow gentleman racer".

He married Tania Richardson, who came from a wealthy family of property moguls, in July 1997. They lived with their two children in a £4.8m home in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, until the couple separated in 2013.

Tania Richardson-Ruhan returned to court to seek a financial settlement on learning that complex commercial litigation involving her husband had been settled.

At the hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice last month, Ms Richardson-Ruhan said she hadn't spoken to her husband since he moved out. He moved on to one of his two luxury superyachts, Babylon. (Both are currently advertised for sale online, Babylon for €6.9m and Lady K II, a 58m motor yacht "priced to sell" at £1.5m.)

Her lawyer told the court that Mr Ruhan was "phenomenally" wealthy. Sally Harrison QC said Mr Ruhan once netted £87m after investing £6m. However, she said Ms Richardson-Ruhan's attempts to find her husband's alleged fortune had been "tortuous and difficult".

She said the court would have "to decide whether the husband - who on anybody's account is a phenomenally successful entrepreneur - has fallen so spectacularly from grace that now he has nothing".

In his judgment, Mr Justice Mostyn said the family had enjoyed "a high standard of living".

"This is because the husband was a highly successful businessman and was very rich," the judgment said. "The question that I must decide is whether he still is very rich.

"The husband says that he is not. Indeed, he says he is insolvent to the tune of £2m. This, he says, is as a result of virtually his entire fortune, some £200m, being stolen from him in March 2014 by a convicted fraudster Dr Gerald Smith," with the assistance of his "treacherous former front-men", the judgment said.

However, his wife claimed her husband was "vastly rich" and that "very large sums" of money were held on his behalf by his business associate, Anthony Stevens. He was in arbitration with BAE over a site: if it went his way, "very large value" will "come his way".

The case, heard in the Family Division of the High Court in London last month, featured some bizarre evidence including claims that Tania Richardson-Ruhan was questioned about a plot to murder him. The plot came to light last year and was investigated by police in Cheshire. Several people were arrested but no one was charged.

Asked by her husband's barrister whether she had paid money "with a view to getting rid of Mr Ruhan", she replied: "No."

She had been on holiday abroad. A friend texted her about the plot. When she returned, she voluntarily went to the police. She was questioned but she said the police never accused her of anything.

However, Mr Justice Mostyn's judgment focused largely on her husband's complex business deals and a raft of commercial litigation. He concluded on the balance of probabilities that Mr Stevens was a nominee, which in business means someone in whose name an asset is registered but is not the beneficial owner.

The judge found that Mr Ruhan frequently used nominees for his business dealings; his home and his boats are - or were - held by nominees.

Tania Richardson-Ruhan had claimed that before they separated, she was lying in bed with her husband and said to him that she didn't think he should trust Anthony Stevens, to which he replied: "Well, I hope we can as he's got all our money." The judge believed she was "speaking the truth" and also believed her when she said she had seen documents confirming that Mr Stevens was a nominee at their home.

As regards one particular transaction, Mr Justice Mostyn said: "This is not a case where the husband's lies can be explained as being an example of a false bolstering of an otherwise truthful case, or where he has tried to cover up matters that would bring upon him shame or disgrace. The lies were told in order to conceal the truth".

The judge identified a sum of £12m left over from a sum of £92m that was spent by Mr Stevens. Mr Justice Mostyn found that most of it was spent for the benefit of the husband, and this should be treated as "part of the distributive award" to his wife.

As for Dr Smith, Mr Justice Mostyn singled out the "key historical fact" of his conviction for theft and false accounting, relating a sum of around £35m. The judge noted remarks by Mr Ruhan's counsel that Dr Smith "chooses to blame" Mr Ruhan for his conviction and incarceration. Both men are involved in commercial litigation that was "complex, elaborate and expensive".

An agreement made last year would have left Mr Ruhan with £73.75m plus 50pc of another company, although "nothing has been paid" and the case is back before the courts.

"In my judgment, no one has any valid claim against the husband, apart from the wife, to those assets," the judgment said. It was "clear" that the money represented the "consensual recovery" by Mr Ruhan of "his own money following the appropriation of Mr Smith".

The judgment concluded that it is now up to Tania Richardson-Ruhan to "formulate what distribution she seeks in her favour" and for Andrew Ruhan to respond to that claim.

Sunday Independent

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