Tycoon loses €20m divorce appeal in landmark UK ruling
Millionaires facing divorce settlements cannot use their businesses to hide wealth from their ex-wives, Britain's highest court has ruled.
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court restored a £17.5m (€20.5m) settlement between Michael Prest, the founder of Petrodel, a Nigerian oil firm, and his ex-wife, Yasmin. Its decision is seen as ending legal arrangements which amounted to a "cheats' charter".
In a unanimous ruling, seven justices rejected Mr Prest's claims that he couldn't hand over luxury properties because they were owned by his companies. They found that Mr Prest controlled the companies and agreed with an earlier judge's inference that he had deliberately tried to "conceal" the fact.
They upheld a High Court judgment which described Mr Prest as a "deceitful", "obstructive" and "wholly unreliable" witness who had attempted to "manipulate" the legal process.
Lord Sumption, who gave the main judgment, warned that courts should look behind complex corporate structures to expose those which are "simply a sham" to hide wealth.
Jeremy Posnansky QC, Mrs Prest's counsel, hailed the ruling as a victory over "manipulative spouses".
Family lawyers said the ruling would secure London's reputation as the "divorce capital of the world" for wives. But others warned that it could create a "gold-diggers' charter".
It follows a five-year legal wrangle between Mr Prest (51) who is estimated to be worth £37.5m (€44m), and his ex-wife (50).
The couple, who have four children, separated in 2008 after a 15-year marriage and were divorced 18 months ago.
Mrs Prest was awarded a £17.5m (€20.5m) settlement in the form of several multi-million pound properties, most of which she has yet to receive.
Mr Justice Moylan, who heard the original case, rejected Mr Prest's claims to be heavily in debt. The Appeal Court, while finding for the companies, concluded that the other directors were "stooges" and that he "milked" the firms to fund an "extravagant lifestyle".
But following a legal challenge in the name of three of the companies, the Court of Appeal ruled last year that many of the properties could not be transferred to Mrs Prest.
That decision was overturned by the Supreme Court yesterday. It found that seven properties held by Mr Prest's companies were really held "in trust" for him. (© Daily Telegraph, London)