London: In a landmark judgement, the UK`s highest court on Wednesday ruled that "dishonest" husbands cannot seek to protect their assets by hiding them in companies in case of divorce.
In a case expected to have wide-reaching implications over what has been termed as a "cheats` charter", the Supreme Court ordered that a settlement against Michael Prest, founder of the Nigerian oil firm Petrodel, must be enforced even though his assets were said to be tied up in his companies.
In a unanimous ruling it found that Prest controlled the companies and therefore owned their assets.
His estranged wife, Yasmin Prest, said she was "delighted and relieved" by the judgement.
The High Court had originally ordered Michael Prest, one of Britain`s most prominent black businessmen, to pay GBP 17.5 million and to transfer the properties as part of the divorce.
But the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling by stating that the assets belonged to the companies, which were separate legal entities.
In a decision seen as helping husbands who want to conceal their assets from their wives, the appeal judges said the "corporate veil" could not be lifted.
But today that decision was overturned by seven Supreme Court justices in a ruling hailed as of huge importance for divorcing couples as well as for family and company law.
"The Supreme Court`s decision shows that dishonest husbands can`t cheat their wives by hiding behind a web of deceit and a corporate facade."
"The decision means that manipulative spouses can`t evade their responsibilities by artificially using a corporate structure to protect their assets in the event of a divorce," Jeremy Posnansky QC of Farrer & Co, the solicitors who acted for Yasmin Prest, said.
The 51-year-old Nigerian oil tycoon repeatedly thwarted multiple court orders to deny his British wife, Yasmin, the GBP 17.5 million he had been ordered to pay her as part of their divorce settlement, the Supreme Court was told.