Describing the award as “restorative justice”, judge Sir Peter Singer said Didier Thiry, 53, was an “unprincipled rogue” who had shown a “sadistic side to his personality” since his relationship with Alisa Thiry broke down.
But it remains an open question whether Mrs Thiry, who had already won £37 million in her divorce from her first husband, will ever see the money.
Earlier this year Mr Thiry, a hotelier and property developer, defied the British courts and refused to comply with an order to disclose key information in the case. That led to him facing a four month prison term for contempt of court if he returned to this country.
Details of the award emerged in a ruling by Mr Justice Singer following private hearings in the Family Division of the High Court in London on Tuesday.
Mr Justice Singer said that at the time of their marriage Mrs Thiry had disclosed assets of nearly £32.3 million, while Mr Thiry had assets of about £8.3 million.
The judge said Mr Thiry had preyed on his wife for his “own profit” and to her “detriment”.
In his damning ruling Mr Justice Singer said Mr Thiry had not appeared at the hearings in November, despite being given an opportunity to travel to London to take part without fear of arrest.
He said: “In regard to his wife and since their relationship broke down he has manifested a manipulative and, it might even be said, a sadistic side to his personality. He can be haughty, menacing and downright rude in tone.”
Mr Justice Singer said Mr Thiry had called his wife and her lawyers “insignificant pieces of s***” and that he had “bombarded” Mrs Thiry with communications during the course of proceedings which were “sneering, superior and supercilious” in tone.
Further, he asked: “Why does Didier Thiry so steadfastly refrain from honouring his word rather than run the risk that one might conclude (as I have done) that he is an unprincipled rogue who has acted in financially predatory fashion to prey on his wife for his own profit and to her substantial detriment?”
Mr Thiry’s claims that he made his wife a £20m profit after investing her money was “demonstrable nonsense”, said the judge, who also took the unusual step of ordered him the entirety of Mrs Thiry’s £456,000 legal bills.
Mrs Thiry, who is British, said Mr Thiry – a French national who lives in Belgium – had refused to honour the terms of a prenuptial agreement and that she had simply been trying to get back what belonged to her.
She said her background was “fashion and design-orientated” and told Mr Justice Singer “my forte is not financial matters”, adding that she had trusted Mr Thiry’s advice after he told her that he was an “experienced investor and financial expert” and that she “did not need to worry”.
She has previously described the divorce proceedings as “a difficult and painful experience”.
Mrs Thiry, a former model and fashion editor at Elle magazine, received a £37m divorce settlement a decade ago following the collapse of her first marriage to Stephen Marks, founder of the high street chain French Connection.
Mrs Thiry’s lawyer, Shona Alexander of Forsters solicitors, said after the ruling that her client had never sought any of Mr Thiry’s money for herself.
“She solely tried to ensure that a clear prenuptial agreement was abided by. That agreement said that each of them should, if they divorced, simply be left in the same position they were in when they married,” said Ms Alexander.
She added: “Accordingly, Ms Thiry has been trying to get back from Mr Thiry what was once hers alone, and which they agreed would always be hers alone in the future. Mr Thiry sadly refused to honour the terms of the prenuptial agreement.”
After being threatened with prison by a judge last May for after refusing to disclose information relevant to the divorce proceedings, Mr Thiry told The Telegraph he had no intention of returning to Britain to face the music.
Mr Justice Newton had ordered him to be jailed for four months for “flagrant” contempt of court after he failed to disclose the information.
But Mr Thiry said at the time: “I can’t come to London. You don’t know what it is for me not to go to London and be condemned to jail. Who would want to come to England anyway? The coffee is terrible, especially in prison I guess.”
Mr Thiry was worth an estimated £8 million when he married Mrs Thiry.
Complicating the case was the question of a £13.8 million loan allegedly made to one of Mr Thiry’s companies by his wife, who has worked as creative director at French Connection and fashion editor at Elle.
The loan, described in court as “part of very complex financial arrangements between husband and wife”, was never paid off, Mrs Thiry claims.
The couple, who had met on the island of St Barts, bought a £3.9 million house in Notting Hill, west London, formerly belonging to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth. They enjoyed holidays at their Caribbean beach house and a whirl of London parties, but the marriage quickly soured.
On March 12 Judge Singer ordered Mr Thiry to disclose information about the loan, an order that Mrs Thiry’s barrister said had been ignored.
Mr Thiry is something of a minor celebrity in Belgium, noted for Odette En Ville, his boutique art deco hotel in a cobbled side street of Brussels, and Chez Odette, a sought-after restaurant and hotel just over the border in the French hamlet of Williers. Both have become the haunt of Belgium’s artists, actors and writers.
He inherited Chez Odette from its previous owner, Madame Odette, at the age of 22, having grown up in the neighbouring village of Mogues, and befriended her. He likes to tell the story of how she made him promise to keep her café going in the event of her death.
Mr Thiry now owns nine properties in Williers, three of them occupied by his children and four grandchildren, and the influx of visitors to his hotel and bijou restaurant has led to a mini-property boom. Homes once worth €50,000 (£40,000) sell for four times as much to Brussels residents looking for a rural retreat.
Mrs Thiry’s split from Stephen Marks was resolved relatively smoothly after he sold £40 million worth of shares in his company to finance the settlement.
She has previously stated that she has "deliberately avoided any public comment on the proceedings, however tempting, because of their sensitivity and the fact that I have three children, as does Mr Thiry, for whom, like me, this is no doubt a difficult and painful experience", adding:
"Nor do I wish to make any public statement denigrating my former husbands, one of whom is the father of my children and with whom I worked successfully for several years following my career as a fashion editor."
One divorce lawyer said Mr Thiry's behaviour was likely to have influenced the judge's ruling.