The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the English estranged wife of a Nigerian oil tycoon in a case lawyers say could have implications for some wealthy divorcing couples.
Michael Prest lost the latest round of a legal fight, which means his wife can now appeal against an earlier ruling.
Judges ruled seven properties at the centre of the dispute could effectively be counted as assets of Mr Prest.
Yasmin Prest said she was “delighted and relieved” by the judgement.
Mr Prest has argued his properties, worth millions of pounds, are not personally owned by him but by off-shore companies.
The High Court had ordered Mr Prest to transfer the properties to his wife, but the Court of Appeal then decided in October that this ruling was wrong.
Mrs Prest then asked the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK for civil cases – to review the Court of Appeal’s decision.
In allowing her appeal, the Supreme Court ruled the homes were “held on trust” for Mr Prest by the companies.
The ruling was a unanimous decision of seven Justices of the Supreme Court.
Yasmin Prest’s lawyer Caroline Holley welcomed the verdict.
“The Supreme Court has dealt a blow to dishonest spouses everywhere and taken this important opportunity to send a clear message that those seeking to avoid responsibilities to their divorcing spouses and children will not be allowed to succeed,” she said.
The case will be watched by some wealthy couples, particularly those from outside the UK, said William Longrigg, head of the family sector at law firm Charles Russell.
He said the Supreme Court had in this case “shown itself to come down on the side of fairness… in favour of the financially weaker party”.
But he said the facts of the case were quite specific, adding: “Assets held by a company will still be regarded as company assets – not those of the husband.”
The couple, both in their 50s, married in 1993 and spent most of their time in London.
They had properties in Nigeria and the Caribbean and lived their life to a “very high standard”, judges heard.
The court was told Mr Prest claimed to be worth about £48m, but Mrs Prest said he could be worth hundreds of millions.
During the legal proceedings, Mr Prest has been criticised for failing to be frank about the true extent of his wealth.
His conduct had been “characterised by persistent obstruction, obfuscation and deceit”, Lord Sumption said in his judgement.
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