Deborah Jeff comments on a court ruling that oil tycoon Michael Prest should not be forced to hand over assets totalling £18m to his former wife, cutting his divorce bill by £9m.
Last October, Nigerian-born businessman Prest was ordered to pay his former wife cash and assets in the form of six of his properties. But after months of wrangling at the courts, with the couple running up legal bills of more than £3 million, judges at the Court of Appeal handed down a written judgment last Friday saying the amount he had been asked to pay was wrong.
The ruling has been called “disappointing” by lawyers for wives whose husbands might use companies to shelter their wealth.
Top London divorce lawyer Deborah Jeff comments: “The case of Prest highlights again how family law is on the back-foot of commercial law in divorce settlements.
“In 2010 with the case of Tchenguiz & Imerman, a wife was prevented from using documents downloaded from her husband’s computer when he sought to hide assets from her. We now have Mr Prest being allowed to use the corporate veil to place assets beyond his wife’s control.
“Common sense and justice for spouses must be returned to our family courts. The public perception of justice being done in divorce settlements is waning as a result of the ‘cheats’ charter’ the courts are now seen to endorse. Whilst commercial law must be respected, the family courts must be able to look behind the deception of husbands and the structures they use to place assets beyond the reach of their wives. Fairness in family law must override commercial law, otherwise judges will continue to unwittingly authorise fraudulent behaviour of spouses getting divorced.”
The couple married in 1993 and lived at their £4m Bayswater home, although they also had properties in Nigeria and the Caribbean. A £11.3m London property portfolio was built up, with almost all the flats and houses being owned by one of Mr Prest’s companies. Lord Justice Patten said it had been wrong to claim that Mr Prest was the sole owner of the assets.
Seddons is a 20-year-old central London law firm (based at 5 Portman Square) with a total of over 70 staff with 19 partners, including one of the best divorce lawyers in the UK, Deborah Jeff. Her Family department offers a comprehensive range of services, including prenuptial agreements.
Chambers UK notes ‘This team offers clients the full range of family services, and is particularly noted for its expertise on divorce proceedings’ and the Legal 500 says ‘Deborah Jeff provides an excellent level of service at Seddons’.