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13 July 2015

Multi-millionaire businessman loses latest stage in divorce battle

A multi-millionaire oil tycoon is facing the prospect of jail after failing to pay his ex-wife more than £360,000 in unpaid maintenance after the Court of Appeal upheld a decision from the High Court, reports Solicitors Journal.

Michael Prest, whose net assets had been assessed at £37.5m by the High Court, had been handed a suspended jail sentence by Mr Justice Moylan for wilfully refusing or neglecting to make a lump sum payment of £17.5m as well as periodical payments to his ex-wife and their four children.

Yasmin Prest had asked the High Court to send her ex-husband to prison after he allegedly failed to pay her the £17.5m she was awarded in their divorce. At the time, Moylan J said he was satisfied Prest had the means to pay and had refused or neglected to do so.

The Nigerian businessman was due to be jailed for four weeks in October 2014 before he launched an appeal. Today, Lord Justice McFarlane, in the Court of Appeal, said Prest had until September to pay £360,200 by 28 September 2015.

A statement issued on Prest’s behalf by his solicitors Collyer Bristow said: ‘There is no argument that Mr Prest has always maintained Mrs Prest and the children to a very high standard.  What is confirmed by today’s ruling, however, is that whilst making payments for their maintenance, he failed to do so in the prescribed form.

‘In the absence of reaching a fair and amicable agreement with Mrs Prest, Mr Prest feels he has no choice but to appeal today’s ruling as there are still unresolved questions that arise from the judgments of Mr Justice Moylan in the High Court, the Supreme Court in 2013, and the current enforcement proceedings.’

The Supreme Court previously involved itself in the case when asked to determine the extent that assets held in the name of companies could be treated as Prest’s personal property. Moylan J had initially ordered Prest to transfer properties held in the names of companies he controlled to his ex-wife.

In 2012 the Court of Appeal had not agreed with the conclusions reached by the High Court judge and upheld the principle that a company’s assets are owned by the company and not by its shareholders.

The Supreme Court supported the Court of Appeal that there was to be no piercing of the corporate veil. However, it concluded that eight UK properties had been held on resulting and/or constructive trusts by Petrodel Resources Limited and that Prest retained the beneficial ownership.  All the properties were subsequently transferred to Yasmin Prest.

Collyer Bristow added that: ‘In 2011, the total value of the UK property held by Petrodel was £11.5m. Since then, those values have increased significantly in line with the property market in Central London. Given the current value of the former matrimonial home, which can be conservatively valued at between £7 and £9m, it is reasonable to assume that Mrs Prest has now received close to the original lump sum award of £17.5m. The maintenance provisions that flowed from the award were due to reduce as the properties were sold or transferred to Mrs Prest.’