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Russian oligarch divorce case highlights need for close forensic investigation

Member: Nifa

The former wife of a Russian oligarch has engaged forensic accountants to prove that she is owed the £5bn she claims is half her former husband’s wealth, which she alleges is hidden behind complex corporate structures. Although initially in denial about the fact that her husband wanted a divorce, Natalia Potanina is now trying to get every penny she says she is owed.

Vladimir Potanin allegedly told his wife that she didn’t need money after admitting to an affair with a junior employee, who is now his second wife. However, Potanina disagrees and is now seeking half the oligarch’s alleged fortune, which was accrued, as she points out, after they met and fell in love as penniless Soviet students in the 1970s.

Although her husband is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $13.5bn and is the 78th richest man on the planet, so far, Potanina has not seen a rouble and, to rub salt in to the wound, a divorce court in Moscow agreed in 2014 that Potanin had “few assets”.

The dispute centres on the family home, which the couple shared with their three children, the youngest of whom is 17 years old. In 2014, the company that formally owns the mansion, which has been compared to the Palace of Versailles, tried to sell it to another firm.  However, they were unable to do so, as Potanina still lived there.  Therefore, the company filed a $1.1m writ against her for damages. She is now effectively in exile in London because of what she describes as the “artificial debt” imposed on her by a Russian court and, if she flies home, her passport will be seized.

However, living in London is potentially a good move, as foreigners are allowed to seek justice in England if they have strong links to the UK and, as one of her legal team pointed out, those fighting their case here can be assured that they have the best legal system behind them.

Author: Roger Isaacs, 24 June 2016

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