Luxury hotels court battle: The oligarch with a taste for beauty, and a very ugly spat with an octogenarian
Fight for control of ultra-luxury hotel chain ensnares a former Tory party official
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Tuesday 15 July 2014
As an ultra-luxury hotel chain whose name means “peace” in Sanskrit, Aman Resorts has long made a virtue of offering discrete hideaways to billionaires and celebrities happy to part with at least £1,000 a night in return for exquisitely appointed seclusion.
But while potentates and plutocrats – known as “Amanjunkies” – have continued to steer their yachts and private jets in the direction of Aman’s 26 boltholes from Bali to Venice, the owners of the business have set aside its bywords of discretion and harmony for a very public bust-up over just who is in control of its network of expensive spas and villas.
A High Court judge in London today delivered a rebuke to one of the lead characters in the dispute, the Russian property tycoon Vladislav Doronin, a former boyfriend of supermodel Naomi Campbell, by insisting that he stand down as chief executive of the joint venture which bought Aman Resorts in January this year for $358m (£208m).
In an interim ruling in the legal clash between Mr Doronin and his co-investor the American entrepreneur Omar Amanat, Catherine Newman, QC, accused representatives of the Russian of “needlessly and inappropriately aggressive conduct” when Adrian Zecha – the 81-year-old founder of Aman Resorts – was locked out of his Singapore home as part of the disagreement.
Mr Zecha, who was also locked out of his office and has claimed he was the subject of “intimidating conduct”, has now been reinstated to both his home and title as chief executive of the resorts. Such is the high-octane nature of the deal between Mr Doronin, who made his fortune in Moscow’s combustible property market, it is alleged by Mr Amanat in papers before the High Court that the Russian told him after their joint takeover deal: “If I feel you tried to screw me, I will hunt you down and shoot you.”
The proceedings also encompass London-based businessman Johan Eliasch, a former deputy treasurer of the Conservative Party and one-time adviser to Gordon Brown while he was Prime Minister, who is alleged to have worked with Mr Doronin to stage a hostile takeover of the Anan chain.
Mr Eliasch, who is now a member of the London Mayor Boris Johnson’s business advisory council, was a third “indirect investor” in the deal. Mr Amanat and his company, Peak Hotels, had believed Mr Eliasch had no connection with Mr Doronin, the ruling said.
Johan Eliasch is a former deputy treasurer for the Tories (Getty)
The judge wrote: “Peak believed that Mr Eliasch was independent of Mr Doronin and Peak now believes that such was never the case, rather Mr Eliasch and Mr Doronin are in fact old friends working together to effect a hostile takeover.”
The legal dogfight has its roots in a breakdown in relations between Mr Doronin, 44, and Mr Amanat, whose investments have included a stake in the studio which made the vampire drama Twilight, after they beat suitors including French luxury goods giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) to buy Aman Resorts.
Founded in 1988 by Mr Zecha, the scion of a wealthy Indonesian famil, Princess Diana is said to have been a fan while tales of the lengths staff go to meet guests’ every whim are legend.
Following a marathon 10-hour board meeting in April, it was abruptly announced that Mr Zecha was stepping down from the business and Mr Doronin was taking over as chief executive with Mr Eliasch becoming chairman.
Mr Zecha acknowledges that he had discussed resigning from his role as chief executive and chairman the night before the meeting but insists he did not formally step down and in any event had been promised a continuing role in the hotel chain.
Judge Newman said that there appeared to be a “clear breach of contract” in removing Mr Zecha before a deadline at the end of this month, adding: “Mr Doronin has no proper basis for calling himself CEO as matters stand.”
The judge said it was possible a full trial of the case, due in September, may find that Mr Doronin’s company had deployed “strong arm tactics” to take control of the hotels. She added she had seen no evidence to substantiate claims against Mr Zecha, including an allegation that he was facing a demand to repay bills run up at Aman hotels.
Both Mr Amanat and Mr Zecha said toight that they were “delighted” with the court ruling. In a statement, Mr Doronin said he would respect the judgment.
The oligarch - Vladislav Doronin
From his Moscow home designed by Zaha Hadid to the requisite super-yacht, Vladislav Doronin (below) has all the trappings of an oligarch determined to enjoy the fruits of his labour. His relationship with Naomi Campbell in 2008 was billed as the point at which both the British supermodel and the Russian property magnate, worth a reputed £1.5bn, would settle down. The love affair faded and Mr Doronin has since been linked with other models.
But the relationship provided a documented link with fellow entrepreneur Johan Eliasch, the Swedish-born chairman and chief executive of the sportswear brand Head. Mr Eliasch, who is also named in the litigation arising from the battle for control of Aman Resorts, was among the guests on board Mr Doronin’s yacht when he invited Ms Campbell and friends to join him off St Tropez in 2008. (Picture credit: Getty)
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