A bankrupt tycoon at the centre of Britain’s most acrimonious divorce admitted offering his estranged wife a £300 million settlement three years after he claims to have lost all his money, the High Court heard today.
Scot Young, a property and telecoms magnate who claims he lost a vast fortune just as his marriage collapsed in 2006, tabled the mammoth offer in 2009 – but today claimed it was a “complete and utter joke”.
The 51-year-old told Michelle Young, 49, she could have £300 million “if Ronald Reagan became the next US president and if Jeremy Beadle walks through the door”, the court heard.
He said: “I was all over the place. I had been drinking heavily the night before. I was trying to show how ridiculous the situation was. I had no money and that was it.”
Rex Howling QC, acting for Ms Young, replied: “You don’t make comments like that unless you have got the money.”
In Mr Young’s opening note to the court, revealed today (Wed) for the first time, the tycoon wrote: “The Respondent [Mr Young] apologises for being so flippant...The Respondent has absolutely no assets or income and there is nothing in the Applicant’s [Mrs Young’s] note to show the existence of any assets whatsoever’.”
Referring to press reports that Michelle Young was “demanding” £300 million, Mr Howling said, ‘It’s not a new position is it? It was put to you four years ago.”
The court has previously heard Mr Young has been handed tens of thousands of pounds in cash from friends to support his playboy lifestyle.
Lawyers for Ms Young, who claims her ex-husband has squirrelled away his money in offshore tax havens and has committed a “fraud” on the marital estate, said the money originated from bank accounts belonging to the tycoon’s creditors, to whom he claims to owe millions of pounds.
Today, Mr Howling accused the businessman of “smurfing” - where financial transactions are structured to avoid scrutiny. Mr Young replied: “I’m not a smurf. I don’t know what a smurf is”
A friend of businessmen including billionaire Topshop owner Sir Philip Green, fashion tycoon Sir Harold Tilman and restaurateur Richard Caring, Mr Young was jailed earlier this year for repeatedly failing to disclose details of the disappearance of his extraordinary wealth.
Later in the day, the court heard from one of Mr Young’s creditors, John Peter Williams, who admitted being “behind” an offshore entity called the Veritas Trust Foundation.
The court heard one of Mr Young’s multimillion pound properties on Eaton Square, Belgravia, was transferred into the trust by Jonathan Brown, another creditor, in 2008.
But Mr Williams said he had no idea of the transaction and said it was organised by the law firm Jirehouse Capital, which the court has previously heard represents both Mr Young and his creditors.
Mr Howling said: “Did you know this trust was holding a flat on your behalf?” Mr Williams replied: “No”. Later, he said of Mr Brown: “I don’t think I have ever met him, I don’t know him.”
At one point during the proceedings, Mr Justice Moor examined allegations in a witness statement related to one of Mr Young’s creditors, Legal and Equitable, and was heard to remark: “This is fraud, but I think we had better call it shenanigans.”
The court also heard from Carl Biggs, a veteran forensic accountant who had tried to make sense of Mr Young’s finances from the small amount of disclosure that the tycoon has released in response to court orders.
Mr Biggs said: “Mr Young made income or gains in excess of £40 million in a seven-year period, and he lost £3 million.
“I cannot see how Mr Young could have possibly become a bankrupt based on the figures I have seen. It is as simple as that.
“Where’s the money gone? I haven’t seen where it’s gone.”
Mr Biggs also said several of Mr Young’s offshore vehicles, including a property holding company called Condor Corporate Services, were used by Mr Young in the years following his alleged financial meltdown in 2006.
Mr Howling said: “You are saying that effectively, £75.5 million has been paid into various accounts by Mr Young, is that right?” ‘Yes’, the accountant replied.
When he examined material at accountancy firm Grant Thornton – Mr Young’s trustee-in-bankruptcy - Mr Biggs said he had uncovered £15 million in cheques written by Mr Young to his creditors in early 2006 - just before his hotly-disputed financial collapse.
He said one £6 million cheque was made out one woman called Elizabeth Sears. Mr Biggs said: “I have seen no evidence to justify the payment.”
He also said he could not understand how Bank of Scotland (HBOS) and others were listed as Mr Young’s creditors on the tycoon’s “business affidavit” which was submitted to the court.
He said: “Having read his affidavit, I have been unable to locate any other borrowings to justify these creditors.
“How did they become creditors because they would have had to have given something to Mr Young.”
The court heard one of Mr Young’s high-profile friends, the billionaire property developer Poju Zabludowicz, is to give evidence tomorrow accompanied by counsel.
Mr Justice Moor said: “I don’t think I have ever had a case where so many witnesses have instructed lawyers.”
The hearing continues.