Judge says £26.3m divorce trapped children in Jeddah

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A judge has condemned a "war" between a millionaire businessman and his former wife which has seen four children snatched from Britain and "imprisoned" in Saudi Arabia.

Lord Justice Thorpe spoke yesterday at the Court of Appeal in London in a long-running legal battle between Abdullah Masry and Mona al-Khatib over their four children.

Mr Masry, 56, from Jeddah, removed the children from their home in London four years ago and took them to his country because he wanted them to grow up in a traditional manner.

But his ex-wife, from Knightsbridge, won a record £26.3m divorce settlement - the highest in British legal history - and a judgment from the British courts that the children be returned to her in the UK.

At the Court of Appeal yesterday, Mr Masry launched an appeal against the High Court orders to pay the divorce settlement and return the two boys, aged 19 and 18, and two girls, aged 15 and 13. Mr Masry, who faces contempt of court proceedings in Britain, was not in court yesterday, but was represented by his counsel, Timothy Scott QC.

Lord Justice Thorpe told Mr Scott: "Why can't these two [parents] come to some humane solution that will restore to the children their international lifestyle? The children are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia as a result of this terrible war between the parents.

"It is a matter of indifference to me whether your client pays the financial price for the decisions he has taken to return within the walls of Saudi Arabia, but I am not indifferent to the price the children are paying for this."

Two years ago, Mr Masry was criticised as "untruthful" in the High Court by Mr Justice Munby, who awarded Ms Khatib the settlement, including £2.5m as a "war chest" to carry on her legal battle for the return of her children, who were born in Saudi Arabia.

Ms Khatib last saw her children four years ago, just before they travelled to France to spend the Easter holiday with their father in Cannes. Rather than returning the children to their mother, Mr Masry flew them to Saudi Arabia two days before they were due home.

Mr Masry said in a sworn statement to the Court of Appeal yesterday that his children were thriving in their new home. He said he had taken them to Saudi Arabia because he feared they were forgetting their heritage and their mother wanted to keep them in Britain after the divorce.

Mr Masry has obtained a court order under sharia law in Saudi Arabia ordering the mother to "return to the house of obedience".

The hearing was adjourned until today to give Mr Masry and his ex-wife the opportunity to agree terms for going to mediation, which would lift the international arrest warrant and allow him to come to the UK.