Couple told to cool off in £400m divorce battle

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The Independent Online

In what has become one of Britain's most acrimonious and high-profile divorce battles, including walk-on roles for Simon Cowell and Sir Philip Green, a couple at war over a £400m "missing fortune" has been given six months to "cool off" after a week of bitter exchanges in the High Court.

The five-year legal battle between Scott Young, a property deal "fixer", who claims that he has lost his fortune, and Michelle, his ex-wife who insists he is concealing his wealth, exploded at a public hearing.

The couple owned a succession of mansions, a £3.5m Miami beachfront home and socialised with billionaires including Topshop boss Sir Philip and Scottish tycoon, Sir Tom Hunter.

Mr Young, who was once pictured with Bill Clinton, gained a reputation for finding homes for the wealthy. He sold a £19m property on the Wentworth Park Estate in Egham, Surrey, to Boris Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch.

When the couple split, a judge ordered Mr Young, 49, to pay his wife, a former model, £27,500 a month in maintenance in 2009. But he has not paid a penny, claiming he is broke after losing his wealth in a Moscow property deal that went wrong.

Ms Young, 47, claims her husband has £2bn in offshore accounts and tax havens and used influential friends including Sir Philip Green, restaurateur Richard Caring and Simon Cowell to help to hide his money.

Giving evidence, Ms Young told Mr Justice Mostyn that her husband was a "secret shareholder" in Cowell's American Idol show. Cowell sent defamation lawyers to court to state that all her allegations were "completely without foundation".

Sir Philip gave £200,000 to his friend's estranged wife upon hearing she was destitute, the court heard. The sum included £5,000 of Topshop vouchers, allegedly to "help her get back on her feet".

Sir Tom contributed £135,000 in annual rent for Ms Young and school fees for the couple's two teenage daughters, it was claimed.

Ms Young argued that the money from Sir Philip was actually her husband's. Mr Young, who said he was good friends with the retail entrepreneur between 2001 and 2007, dismissed the claim as "ludicrous".

Ms Young says her husband is hiding a fortune of more than £400m. The £27,500 monthly maintenance she won in 2009, the highest ever award in the UK, was based on a Belgravia property portfolio, valued at £150m, which Scot Young, from Dundee, was known to have owned.

She told the court that her husband, using different pseudonyms, had concealed his assets in offshore accounts in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands. However, he claims actually to be £28m in debt and says it is a coincidence that he lost his fortune at roughly the same time as his marriage collapsed in 2006.

Mr Young claims to have lost much of his wealth in a £600m Russian retail property investment called Project Moscow.

Ms Young claims her husband is the secret fixer behind some of London's biggest property deals and is able to call in favours with the wealthy individuals he has assisted. But the extent of his influence is unclear. Caring has contributed £50,000 to Young's legal fees, the court heard. But Caring's friends say that Young was not involved in his Mayfair property deals. Sir Philip and Sir Tom say that Young was among their circle of friends but was not a business partner.

Trevor Abrahmsohn, an estate agent who brokers multimillion-pound property deals in Hampstead, London, said Young was unknown among the small number of dealers responsible for high-end purchases.

Kevin Cash, a secretive multimillionaire property dealer, who was once a business partner of Young's, was also said to have helped to "shield" his friend's finances, the court heard.

The court did not hear from another high-profile public figure who could yet be ensnared in the saga. Ms Young claimed that her husband once told her that he was "on the verge of a deal involving Bill Clinton that would make him one of the richest men in the world".

Mr Justice Mostyn adjourned the case until October, giving the parties a six-month breathing space in which to come to some form of agreement.

Ms Young, who now lives a reduced existence dining on pizza in a Victoria flat, says she is fighting for the future of the two daughters she can no longer afford to put through private school.

Her estranged husband maintains he is penniless and called his ex-wife a "fantasist" from the witness box. An agreed settlement may still be some way off.