Judge urges couple to avoid costly divorce row

'Who gets what' tussle could be heard in either England or Malaysia

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A Laura Ashley boss and his estranged wife could be facing a multi-million pound divorce “nightmare” after a judge ruled their “who gets what” battle could be heard in either England or Malaysia.

Khoo Kay Peng, 75, who is non-executive chairman of Laura Ashley Holdings, and former beauty queen Pauline Chai, 67, have had a costly and bitter legal row over where it should be heard.

Mr Justice Bodey, sitting in the Family Division of the High Court, said he was “urging the parties with all the strength I can muster” to redouble their efforts “to reach a financial accommodation” and avoid the nightmare of a legal battle in two jurisdictions.

The judge ruled that either jurisdiction could be appropriate to try their case after establishing that Ms Chai did now have habitual residence in the UK. Legal bills in the case have already topped £2m.

The warring couple both come from Malaysia, have five children and married in December 1970.

Dr Khoo says their home was in Malaysia. Ms Chai – who was Miss Malaysia 1969 – says they moved their home to Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, before separating last year.

Ms Chai’s solicitor Ayesha Vardag described Mr Justice Bodey’s ruling as “a very just decision”. Ms Chai said: “I am proud to be one of the beneficiaries of one of the greatest gifts that the English have given to the world: the rule of law.”