News Column

UK's wealthiest divorce case can be reported, judge rules

July 8, 2014

Owen Bowcott, theguardian.com



An attempt by a hedge fund tycoon to impose a "blanket" ban on reporting the UK's wealthiest divorce case has been rejected by a high court judge.

In a test case that significantly expands the media's ability to report on matrimonial hearings, Mrs Justice Roberts has permitted everything conducted in a private hearing to be published for the first time apart from financial information relating to the couple's personal or business affairs. Those financial matters that have already been published can be re-reported.

Jamie-Cooper Hohn, 49, the American wife of Sir Christopher Hohn, 47, is seeking hundreds of millions of pounds in what will be the largest divorce award ever made by a British court.

Her lawyers argue that she is entitled to half the property, shares and businesses held by her husband. The couple have four children, including triplets. They were married for 17 years before she petitioned for divorce in March 2012.

The dispute extends to the true value of their personal wealth, which, the court has heard, is worth at least $1.3bn (760m). Cooper-Hohn's lawyers argue that she is entitled to a 50/50 split; his lawyers have offered her only 25% of the holdings on the grounds that he has made a special contribution to their wealth.

Hohn, the son of a Jamaican car mechanic, attended Southampton University and then Harvard. He runs The Children's Investment (TCI) fund management UK, a hedge fund whose profits are mainly returned to a charitable foundation. TCI controls investments worth around $8bn, including holdings in Moodys Corp and Royal Mail Plc.

The charity established by Hohn and his wife, the Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), is believed to hold $4.3bn. She is the chair of the fund. The couple have been described as the UK's most generous philanthropists. Last year CIFF pledged to spend more than 500m tackling childhood malnutrition around the world during a summit hosted by David Cameron, the prime minister. It is one of the world's largest private charities.

Following an appeal court hearing last month, which dismissed expert evidence on the value of hedge fund management companies, lawyers for the couple began presenting their cases in the family division of the high court last week. Much of that detail has only just been made reportable.

The couple have said they live relatively modest lives, given their wealth.

She denies enjoying a jet-set lifestyle; he has described it as being more of a "Swatch" than Rolex lifestyle.

The Hohns, who met at Harvard University, married in 1985. Much of their personal wealth is in the form of a stake in the TCI hedge fund. She claims the holding is worth 870m; his lawyers insist it amounts to only 64.3m.

The court has heard that the couple's private assets are comprised of investments in TCI of $1.15bn (672m), other disputed TCI entities, investments of about $30m (17.5m), pensions worth about $85m (50m) and properties worth $36m (21m).

Up until now journalists have been allowed to sit in private divorce hearings but were unable to report most of what they witnessed. If today's judgment sets a precedent it could still face appeal it will mean that all hearings will be reportable save any restrictions a judge imposes case-by-case.

The UK has gained a reputation as the divorce capital of the world because of the multi-million pound settlements awarded to ex-wives. The former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney was required to pay Heather Mills 24.3m after four years of marriage. Beverley Charman, the former wife of John Charman, an insurance magnate, recently received 48m.

The largest payout to date is the estimated 100m-200m believed to have been made to Galina Besharova by Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch who was found dead last year.

The case continues.


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Source: Guardian Web


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