A tycoon who was worth hundreds of millions of pounds but claims to have lost it all has been ordered to explain where it has gone or go to prison.
Scot Young, a fixer to billionaires, claims his fortune has vanished and that he is £27m in the red, leaving him unable to provide a divorce settlement. He failed, however, to provide full details of his finances yesterday and a High Court judge had "no hesitation" in finding him guilty of contempt.
His estranged wife, Michelle Young, is seeking a share of his assets, maintenance and a divorce and has challenged his claim to be on the brink of bankruptcy. Mr Young maintains that he is unable to pay creditors and cannot even afford a lawyer to represent him, despite his wife obtaining computer records showing that in 2006 he was worth £400m. By August 2007, the court heard, Mr Young was claiming his property empire had collapsed and that he was so hard up he owed £27m.
Richard Todd, QC, Mrs Young's counsel, compared the case in the High Court in London to the Hollywood comedy film Brewster's Millions. In the 1985 movie, Richard Pryor stars as a baseball player who has to spend $30m in 30 days and finds out how hard it is to get rid of so much money and have nothing to show for it at the end.
Mr Todd questioned how it was that Mr Young had until 15 May been represented by Geoffrey Cox, QC, a leading financial lawyer, if he had no money. Similarly, he wondered how it was "with apparently no visible means of support" that Mr Young had been flying between the UK and Germany, where his main working base is located.
The barrister told Mrs Justice Parker that Mrs Young has been served with notice to quit her home, and her daughters faced the prospect of having to leave their school. Mrs Young lives with daughters her Scarlet, 16, and Sasha, 14, at a property in Regent's Park, London. Her husband has been paying the £10,000-a-month rent on the property and the girls' £36,000-a-year private school fees, though there are suggestions he has been helped by his friend, Sir Tom Hunter, a billionaire entrepreneur.
Mrs Justice Parker, after deciding the husband was in contempt of court having had plenty of time to provide the financial details that had been demanded, gave him until 7 September to come up with the information. She said that, if at a further hearing on 28 September, he had failed to comply with the order he would go to jail for six months.
The judge also ordered Mr Young to pay his wife's legal costs on an "indemnity" basis – the highest scale of court costs – despite his insistence he had no money to pay.
Mr Young, 47, representing himself in court because legal aid had been revoked, asked for another chance to answer the outstanding questions about his finances. "I can give a narrative report of my financial collapse between 2004 and 2006," he said but was told full details were required.
In a court hearing last week another judge, Mr Justice Charles, ordered Mr Young's passport to be seized because of the danger that he would try to flee the country. "There is a real risk that he will leave the jurisdiction and not be seen again," he said, and made it clear to the estranged husband that the court expected to see documentation to show where the money had gone. "There isn't any at the moment," the judge added. Mr Justice Charles ruled that the case could be attended and reported by the media despite being in the family courts.
The couple married at Chelsea register office in 1995 but their relationship broke down in 2006 and divorce proceedings were started. They had met when she was working in the retail industry and her future husband was making a name for himself as a property entrepreneur.
Mr Young owned a series of mansions and acted as a fixer for the extremely rich, including Russian oligarchs. Much of his business was finding and acquiring expensive properties but he would also purchase cars on behalf of wealthy contacts. Among the deals he carried out was selling a £19m family home to Boris Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch, on Wentworth Park Estate in Egham, Surrey. Until the marriage break-up, according to one report, £3m-worth of cars could be found parked in their driveway.
In a statement, Mrs Young's solicitor, Ayesha Vardag, said: "Michelle Young has no desire to see her husband go to prison. She simply wants him to provide the court with the information it has ordered of him so that their case may be conducted properly and fairly."