Hoogstraten claims victory in fight against damages award

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The Independent Online

Nicholas van Hoogstraten, the property tycoon, claimed victory yesterday in his multimillion-pound legal battle with the family of a man he was once convicted of conspiring to kill.

Nicholas van Hoogstraten, the property tycoon, claimed victory yesterday in his multimillion-pound legal battle with the family of a man he was once convicted of conspiring to kill.

Three Court of Appeal judges overturned High Court orders striking out Mr van Hoogstraten's defence in the £5m claim. They also quashed orders fining him more than £1m for contempt of court for failing to disclose his assets.

Mohammed Raja had been suing Mr van Hoogstraten, a former business associate, when he was shot dead by two men who worked for Mr van Hoogstraten, the Old Bailey was told in 2002. Mr van Hoogstraten, now 59, was sentenced to 10 years for man-slaughter but the conviction was set aside by the Court of Appeal last year.

The family of Mr Raja continued with the civil action, and in the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Smith froze Mr van Hoogstraten's assets after he failed to comply with court orders to disclose them. He was also fined £1m and his property sequestrated.

Mr van Hoogstraten, whose wealth in arts, antiques and property has been estimated at up to £500m, issued a triumphant statement after the hearing, condemning the "spurious" action brought against him and the "vindictive" orders of the court. He was scathing about the police and judiciary involved in his criminal trial and equally critical of the civil proceedings. The statement said the decision allowed Mr van Hoogstraten to sue the Raja family to recover his "very substantial costs, damages and compensation".

The civil case will go back to the High Court Chancery Division for a new hearing into the claim by the Raja family, with Mr van Hoogstraten's defence and counter-claim for damages reinstated. Liability for costs will be decided later.

Mr Raja's son Amjad said: "This is not the end. We are definitely going to be fighting on, otherwise our father would have died in vain. We had a judgment before in our favour and we will get a judgment in the future in our favour."

In October 2002, while Mr van Hoogstraten was in jail, Mr Justice Smith imposed rolling fines of £200,000 a week, increasing 10 per cent a week, for failing to disclose assets. When Mr van Hoogstraten appeared in court, he asked Mr Justice Smith what had happened to his application to challenge the freezing order. He was told that the court appeared to have lost it but the judge said he would not hear it until Mr van Hoogstraten complied with the freezing order and disclosed his assets.

"Is that not putting the cart before the horse?" Mr van Hoogstraten asked, an observation described by one appeal judge, Lord Justice Chadwick as not unfair. He said he allowed Mr van Hoogstraten to bring his appeals against the orders because they were made at hearings at which he was neither present nor represented.

The judge said Mr van Hoogstraten had also applied to set aside the orders which led to the contempt findings, but the judge had refused to hear them because Mr van Hoogstraten was in contempt. "If this court were to accede to the claimant [Raja's] contention that Mr van Hoogstraten should not be heard on these appeals, it would be in danger of compounding what would be a serious injustice and a breach of Mr van Hoogstraten's ... rights." Lord Justice Chadwick said. It was "startling", he added, that the judge had held the contempt hearing in Mr van Hoogstraten's absence. "That approach ... suggests the judge has already closed his mind to the possibility that there is anything to be said by the alleged contemnor in his own defence."