Nr (Petitioner) v AB (1St Respondent) Bco Ltd (2Nd Respondent) Mb (3Rd Respondent) Lb (4Th Respondent)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtFamily Division
JudgeMrs Justice Roberts
Judgment Date22 Feb 2016
Neutral Citation[2016] EWHC 277 (Fam)
Docket NumberCase No: FD13D04178

[2016] EWHC 277 (Fam)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

FAMILY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Mrs Justice Roberts

Case No: FD13D04178

Between:
NR
Petitioner
and
AB
1st Respondent
BCO Limited
2nd Respondent
MB
3rd Respondent
LB
4th Respondent

Robert Peel QC and Amber Sheridan (instructed by Payne Hicks Beach) for the Petitioner

Richard Todd QC and Max Lewis (instructed by Grosvenor Law) for the 1st Respondent

Lewis Marks QC and Marcus Lazarides (instructed by Wiggin Osborne Fullerlove) for the 2 nd, 3 rd and 4 th Respondents

Hearing dates: 17th November 2015 to the 25th November 2015

A. Introduction

1

This is an application by a former wife for financial remedy orders. The applicant is NR. Her former husband, AB, is the First Respondent. I shall refer to them, respectively, in this judgment as "the husband" (H) and "the wife" (W). Each should know that I intend no disrespect to either of them in adopting this convenient shorthand. Their marriage was in fact dissolved on 25 July 2014 when a decree nisi pronounced in January 2014 was made absolute.

2

There are three further Respondents to this application. On 21 May 2014 Sir Peter Singer made an order joining as parties to this litigation a family company and H's mother and sister. They are respectively BCO Limited, an offshore property holding company incorporated in St Vincent and the Grenadines ("BCO"); MB ("H's mother"); and LB ("H's sister"). Their involvement in these matrimonial proceedings has been necessary because one of the central issues which I have to determine is the nature and extent of the resources which are available for division at the end of this marriage ("the computation issue"). It is said by all four respondents that, since the death of H's father in 1991, the family has historically arranged its affairs on the basis of joint or collective family ownership of various properties and other assets. There is a dispute between H and W as to the extent of H's beneficial ownership of a number of properties and other assets situated both within the jurisdiction in London and outwith in France and Saudi Arabia. BCO was incorporated in May 1978 by H's late father and, over the years, it has provided the vehicle through which a number of property acquisitions have been channelled.

3

H's father, NB, died on 24 November 1991. He had been suffering from a terminal illness for several months and, although he died intestate, he had in December 1989 set out his testamentary intentions in a formal letter of wishes. It is that document which, on the respondents' case, has shaped and guided the investment decisions which H, his mother and sister have made during the intervening years. Having seen and heard from all three during the course of this hearing, I am left in no doubt that they are a close, tight and loving family unit who have supported each other over the years since the loss of their late husband and father. As both his mother and sister accept, H took over as the head of their family and they have looked to him to take care of them and manage their financial investments, as his father did before his untimely death. The extent to which their dealings have offered the opportunity to cloak or conceal the true nature of some of those transactions in the context of the present matrimonial proceedings is something which I shall need to determine in due course. It is W's case that, in various respects, the picture which was presented to her during the marriage in terms of the ownership of various assets is wholly inconsistent with the financial presentation which H now asks the court to accept as reflecting the underlying reality. There are also significant complaints about the manner in which he has presented his financial disclosure during the two years and more over which this litigation has been continuing.

4

In parallel with the financial litigation, H and W have been involved in many months of highly acrimonious litigation over their three children. There has already been a lengthy hearing in front of Russell J in relation to H's contact with the children. He told me that he has not been able to maintain a proper relationship with his children for the best part of two years since the marriage broke down. I am aware that the judge made a number of findings about him in a judgment delivered on 19 December 2013. I have not been provided with a full copy of her judgment, nor is it necessary or appropriate that I should have been. However, I am aware that the bitterness and hurt which those proceedings have generated on both sides of the extended family have to a significant extent contaminated these financial proceedings. I have little doubt that this has been a factor which has only served to increase W's concerns about the extent to which H has made full, frank and complete disclosure of his financial affairs.

5

The wider family members on both sides have been drawn into the dispute. Whilst he is not a party to these proceedings, W's own father has played a significant role in the saga as it has unfolded. He is by all accounts a man of very significant wealth and has to date paid her legal costs to the tune of over £1 million. That the underlying dynamic of this litigation is informed to a significant extent by the polarised positions of the various family members is not in doubt as far as I am concerned. Whereas I have not had the opportunity to see and hear W's father in the witness box, I have observed H's mother. She struck me as a highly intelligent woman of considerable grace and elegance. Whilst she now looks to her son, H, as the perceived head of the family, she is nevertheless a lady who, in my judgment, has very clear ideas and opinions about how things should be done. She appeared entirely weary of the wider family's involvement in the litigation which has flowed from the breakdown of her son's and daughter-in-law's marriage and she became visibly distressed as she recounted to me how it had resulted in an enforced estrangement from her grandchildren. These are not issues for me. I set them out at this stage simply to set the scene for the financial litigation which has now cost this family a total of more than £2 million.

Representation

6

Mr Robert Peel QC appeared with Miss Amber Sheridan on behalf of W, instructed by Payne Hicks Beach. H is represented by Mr Richard Todd QC who appeared with his junior, Mr Max Lewis. Their professional instructions came from Grosvenor Law. The company, together with H's mother and sister, were represented by Mr Lewis Marks QC and his junior, Mr Marcus Lazarides, who were instructed by Wiggin Osborne Fullerlove. It is abundantly clear to me that an enormous amount of care and industry has gone into the written presentations which were put before the court at the commencement of this hearing and by way of refinement to the parties' respective cases at its conclusion. I have been greatly assisted by all the legal teams and extend my thanks to each one.

B. Background

7

H was born in May 1970; he is now 45 years old. He holds dual Saudi and British nationality. W was born in May 1978 and she is 37 years old. H has one sister, the fourth respondent in these proceedings. W is one of three siblings.

8

H's professional background is the world of international banking. Over the course of his career, he has been employed by a number of well-known banks including J P Morgan, Citibank, Goldman Sachs and EFG Hermès. Most recently he has been employed as the chief executive officer of AL Company (a corporate global equity investor) where his gross annual income was just under £326,500. In circumstances to which I shall come, H's income has recently been reduced and his future with his current employer remains uncertain. However, he told me that when this litigation is concluded and he returns to live in the Middle East (as is his current intention), he will use his best endeavours to find a full-time job which provides him with a more or less comparable remuneration package. Since his divorce from W, he has remarried under Sharia law and his second wife and their 5 month old daughter live in Dubai.

9

Whilst W's written evidence refers to their engagement as having been celebrated in 1998, I am satisfied that the true position, as she explained during her oral evidence, was that they had become engaged in or about April 1999. During the previous year, H had been romantically involved with another woman whom it appears he continued to see during the early part of his relationship with W. However, the two of them soon became committed to one another and their relationship developed quickly thereafter. H sought W's father's permission to marry and they were married in central London on 20th May 1999. H was then 28 and W 21 years old. He was in the early stages of his banking career and was employed by Goldman Sachs. A few days later, there was a second Sharia ceremony in London.

10

Once married, the couple moved into a London apartment at 18 SP Mansions in South Kensington ("18SPM"). The leasehold interest in that property had been purchased in October 1998. The legal title was acquired by BCO and the purchase price was £965,000. Amongst the material in the bundles placed before me were a number of documents relating to this transaction [E:55–94]. APS, a well-known firm of London solicitors, handled the conveyancing through one of its partners, Mr V. The property is described as "a wonderfully bright penthouse duplex with direct views over Kensington Gardens". It then consisted of three bedrooms and three bathrooms. As was made known to the vendor's solicitors at the time, the purchase was to be completed in the name of "a British West Indies company that is operated through a Channel Islands Bank". That bank was VD Bank. On behalf of APS, Mr V wrote,

"We can in fact...

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