Russian businessman Vladimir Slutsker loses legal fight over London house
Monday 17 September 2012
A “very wealthy” Russian businessman today lost a legal fight with his ex-wife over the ownership of a house in London worth millions of pounds.
Vladimir Slutsker and his former wife Olga argued about the house - which cost £6 million in 2000 - at the High Court after going through an "extremely acrimonious" divorce.
A judge ruled against Mr Slutsker - a businessman and former member of the Russian parliament - following a trial in London.
Mr Justice Underhill said Mr Slutsker and Mrs Slutsker had both given "highly unsatisfactory" evidence. He said neither "struck me as a reliable witness".
Mr Slutsker had claimed 50% of the beneficial interest in the house - The Boltons in South Kensington.
But the judge dismissed his claim.
Mr Justice Underhill said the house was Mrs Slutsker's "project" and a home for her and the children.
The judge concluded that the "concept" had been that the house would be held on trust for the children - under the provisions of a trust deed - and Mr Slutsker would not have "access to its capital value".
He suggested that Mr Slutsker had not "taken the trouble" to understand how the trust arrangements might work in the event of the marriage breaking down.
Mr Justice Underhill said it was "plausible" that the ownership of offshore assets was a "sensitive matter" for Russian politicians.
He said he was "inclined" to the view that Mr Slutsker had not wanted a "paper trail" linking him to the house.
The couple had married in Moscow in 1990 and had two children. The house was bought in 2000. The couple divorced in Moscow in 2009, the court heard.
Mr Justice Underhill said the divorce had been "very acrimonious".
The house had been bought as a "safe haven for the family" - following an attempt on Mr Slutsker's life, the trial was told.
Mr Justice Underhill heard evidence at a trial in March and handed down a written ruling today.
Mrs Slutsker was not a "party" in the litigation. Mr Slutsker took action against a company in whose name the house was registered and against trustees.
But the judge said the "interests principally involved" were those of Mr and Mrs Slutsker.
The judge said Mrs Slutsker's evidence was "often unhelpfully broad-brush" and Mr Slutsker "committed himself to dogmatic statements" which were "generally implausible and often demonstrably wrong".
He added: "Neither struck me as a reliable witness."
The judge said there had been "equivocation" on the question of where the money to buy the house came from.
"I cannot help suspecting that the parties' equivocation on the relevance of this question may reflect an unwillingness ... for whatever reason, to advance a case which might lead to a more general examination of the financial affairs of Mr or Mrs Slutsker," said the judge.
"I was largely dependent on the oral evidence of Mr and Mrs Slutsker, which was in both cases highly unsatisfactory."
He added: "I do not think that Mrs Slutsker invented her evidence that Mr Slutsker was aware of, and welcomed, the fact that because (the house) was not held in his name he did not have to declare it.
"It is entirely plausible that the ownership of substantial offshore assets should be a sensitive matter to Russian politicians."
The judge said in 2006 a journalist "sought to embarrass" Mr Slutsker by publishing an article which included photographs of the house and a copy of the Land Registry entry.
He said Mr Slutsker, a Senator in the Russian Duma between 2002 and 2010, had the journalist "prosecuted for blackmail".
The judge added: "On balance I incline to the view that one reason at least for Mr Slutsker's non-involvement with the arrangements for the trust was indeed that he did not want to have a paper trail linking him to (the house) in the light of his political ambition."
Mr Justice Underhill said he thought his decision to dismiss Mr Slutsker's claim was "just".
The judge said Mr Slutsker had not objected to Mrs Slutsker's "concept" that the house would be held on trust for the children - which meant that he would not have access to its capital value.
"He may not have appreciated the detailed provisions of the trust deed," added the judge.
"But... I do not see anything fundamentally unjust in Mr Slutsker being unable now to set aside arrangements made long ago on the basis that he had not taken the trouble to understand how they might work out in the event of a breakdown of the marriage.
"That is quite apart from any consideration of the fact that the arrangements may have suited him in his role as a Senator."
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