At the heart of the biggest money battle London divorce courts have ever seen is the Luna – a 115m nine-deck luxury motor yacht docked in a dusty Dubai marina.
The Luna is the largest and most expensive asset held by companies linked to oil and gas tycoon Farkhad Akhmedov, who bought the ship from fellow billionaire Roman Abramovich. It is also the prized target of Tatiana Akhmedova, Farkhad’s ex-wife for 21 years. Worth around Â£ 250million (Rand 5 billion), the takeover of the yacht would go a long way towards satisfying a London court’s Â£ 450million divorce sentence in her favor.
But this, Tatiana finds out, will not be easy. With settlement negotiations with her ex-husband going nowhere, she pledged to fight her battle in multiple jurisdictions, from Dubai and Liechtenstein to the Marshall Islands. What the Money Lawsuit shows is that a London court ruling may not be worth the paper it’s written on when pitted against someone who can move assets through. the world and is determined to defeat the ordinance.
Farkhad has said he will do anything so his ex-wife cannot get hold of his fortune. The case highlights how the world’s rich are able to protect their assets through regulatory arbitrage, playing one jurisdiction against another, creating opaque trusts and transferring ownership.
After the latest court ruling from a London judge last month – this time concerning the couple’s 27-year-old son Temur, to whom Tatiana alleges his father transferred assets – Farkhad said the case ” is in contempt and does not change anything â. The son was more conciliatory, his spokesperson affirming that he had never sought to take sides between his two parents.
‘Burn that money’
Tatiana and Farkhad met in 1989, married four years later and moved to London, where Tatiana has since lived with their two children. The marriage officially ended at the end of 2014.
Two years later, a London judge awarded Tatiana 41% of Farkhad’s assets. Farkhad called the 2016 divorce order illegitimate and moved to Russia. âI’m going to burn this money rather than give it to it,â he said in a WhatsApp message to his son in March of that year.
Azerbaijan-born Farkhad made much of his money from the sale of his stake in a Russian gas producer in November 2012 for $ 1.4 billion. But the billionaire refused to pay for the divorce, leaving Tatiana to pursue lawsuits in at least nine different locations.
Since the first ruling, Farkhad has insisted that his wife was acting in bad faith and that she was under the control of her backer Burford Capital Ltd. run in the courts of the world âon his behalf – which Burford rejected. The company declined to comment further on the matter.
Earlier this year, the former couple discussed a settlement, with Farkhad promising to pay Tatiana $ 100 million and Burford $ 15 million, according to people familiar with the matter. The talks did not take hold, leaving Tatiana to continue her hunt.
She has so far seized a single helicopter on the Isle of Man worth around Â£ 6million and is approaching a private plane. Its prosecution has encountered obstacles, with assets frequently changing ownership and transferred from one jurisdiction to another.
While the lawsuit was ongoing, much of the family’s wealth was transferred from Farkhad’s name to Liechtenstein trusts. Some $ 140 million worth of artwork, including paintings by Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko, has been placed in a giant vault called the “ Treasure House ” in the small city-state.
Yet the Luna, who – along with her 50-member crew – has languished in her Dubai bunk for over two years, remains at the heart of their most intense fight. From time to time, Farkhad and Temur use the ship, which is one of the few luxury âexplorer yachtsâ in the world with steel hulls designed to break sea ice.
La Luna’s title changed four times, sometimes overnight, according to Tatiana’s lawyers. Her investigators say they also found a suspicious bank transfer in 2018, just as Tatiana’s side hit the trust of Liechtenstein who owns the yacht with an emergency freeze. A payment of $ 65,000 was made to a Dubai shipping company from Farkhad’s personal account. The money was destined for a large ocean tugboat and for a while, according to Tatiana’s lawyers, it looked like the cornered billionaire was running away. The payment was simply to tow the Luna to the dry dock for repairs, Farkhad’s spokesperson said.
Tatiana struggled to convince other courts to recognize the London rulings. Local courts in Dubai have overturned his ruling on a matrimonial dispute, after Farkhad argued it was inconsistent with Sharia law. “It is indeed impossible” to enforce English judgments in Liechtenstein, lamented a London judge.
But for Tatiana, the most powerful judicial recognition of all can come from a tiny chain of islands thousands of miles across the Pacific.
Superyacht MV Luna: A ship is bound by law to the flag it flies, and the Luna flies the flag of the Marshall Islands. Earlier this year, a local court sided with Tatiana in a judgment that would allow her to be declared the new owner of the yacht.
The court cited Farkhad’s “model of conduct” when ruling in favor of his ex-wife. The actions taken by the billionaire and the Liechtenstein trust were aimed at “hindering, delaying and avoiding complying with English monetary judgments,” he said.
Farkhad’s spokesperson rejected the decision, saying “there is no reliable maritime or legal advice that believes this will result in a forced change of ownership.”
Battling OnThat leaves Dubai, where the Luna is stranded and slowly depreciates in value. A broker estimated that its value had fallen to $ 110 million.
As Tatiana’s team hired an asset recovery company backed by former military personnel, providing fodder for London tabloids to gleefully talk about the Special Forces raids on the yacht, Tatiana ultimately needs some help. assistance from the emirate’s local courts.
“We are the owner, and Dubai is going to have to admit it,” said James Power, an American attorney for Tatiana, who argued the case in Marshall Islands courts. “They’re going to have to twist themselves into a pretzel to ignore this.”
Power is one of several lawyers funded by Burford Capital, the litigation firm that will take 30% of all recovered assets in exchange for funding the hunt, according to court documents. Last year he invested Â£ 18million in the litigation.
Burford’s money allowed Tatiana to sue her son Temur in London in an attempt to seize local assets, including his luxury apartment overlooking Hyde Park.
The judge ordered Temur to pay his mother more than $ 100 million for doing “all he could” to prevent her from getting her court-approved divorce compensation.
After the ruling, a spokesperson for Temur said that “while he fundamentally disagrees with this judgment, he would see it as a price to pay if it leads to a reasonable settlement between the parents he loves.”
But the judgment angered Farkhad.
âBurford has embarked on an incredibly expensive world tour of courts around the world to seize family assets and trusts from me,â he said in a statement.
For now, the biggest prize – the Luna – remains in Farkhad’s hands. Tatiana’s lawyers are not losing hope, however.
âPeople with money can always delay things, but at the end of the day, they always make up for it,â Power said.
– With the help of Chris Mille