Gulf Keystone's boss has his shares frozen in $100m divorce battle

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The executive chairman of Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP), one of the City's most talked about companies, has had his shares frozen as part of a $100m divorce battle in the US.

An asset injunction is in place against Todd Kozel, so he is unable to trade his 0.49 per cent shareholding in the northern Iraq-focused oil & gas explorer. Those 3.7 million shares are worth more than £6m.

According to files lodged in Sarasota circuit court in Florida, Mr Kozel's wife, Ashley, is alleging that he has additional GKP stock worth up to $150m (£91m) tucked away in trusts as part of "divorce planning". Together with numerous properties, cars, jet skis, an extensive wine collection and other assets, Mrs Kozel's legal team believes that she is entitled to as much as $100m.

However, Mr Kozel disputes the extent to which he is the ultimate beneficiary of the trusts, which has become the crux issue of the proceedings. For example, there is a dispute over Gulf Keystone Petroleum LLC, which holds 40 million shares currently worth more than £65m.

Mrs Kozel's legal team allege that between 40 and 50 per cent of those shares belong to Mr Kozel. In fiery exchanges with his wife's lawyer, Jeff Fisher, Mr Kozel insisted that he owned only 11 per cent and the remaining 29 per cent was held for his father and brothers.

The case also details some of the business dealings of GKP, which has excited the City with its spectacular share performance and hugely successful oil finds in the past year.

GKP stock closed at 165p on Thursday, more than double its price at the same time last year, making it one of the biggest companies on the junior AIM market.

In his deposition, Mr Kozel acknowledged that GKP had incurred expenses at strip clubs where executives entertain clients:

Mr Fisher asked: "What did you spend $7,711.67 on at the Bourse Restaurant?" Mr Kozel replied: "That's a strip club where we entertain our customers and company members, which is reimbursable by the company."

A GKP spokesman said: "The company has no comment on those matters and respects the privacy of the Kozel family. As far as stock ownership is concerned, the company considers its public disclosures correctly reflect the same. The company is committed to openness, integrity, accountability and good corporate governance."

Mr Fisher said: "The only thing that I can say in response to your inquiries is that, as counsel for Mrs Kozel, we will aggressively pursue her right to receive 50 per cent of all marital assets, and we will vigorously protect her interests in both domestic and international courts."

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