Some of Britain’s most influential business leaders including Sir Philip Green, Harold Tillman and Richard Caring, will be cross-examined by the woman at the centre of Britain’s most high-profile divorce when the case comes to a climax later this month.
Scot Young, a property and telecoms tycoon, failed in an attempt to shield the wealthy men, who he has claimed paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to provide for his ex-wife Michelle and her two daughters during their bitter, seven-year legal battle.
Lawyers for the 51-year-old businessman, who is officially bankrupt, tried to prevent the men being cross-examined by Mrs Young. She claims her husband squirrelled away £400m in offshore tax havens before they split in 2006, and that his friends “are, in fact, a conduit for his secreted wealth”.
Sir Philip Green, who owns Topshop, claims he paid two cheques for £80,000 to an estate agent in 2008 to help Mrs Young pay rent on a London house. Justin Warshaw, acting for Mr Young, argued his “friends and sponsors” had provided witness statements and their evidence should not be challenged.
Mr Justice Moor said that would amount to a “ridiculous situation”. He added: “I consider it almost inconceivable that she would not be able to challenge them… If these people are saying that they funded Mr Young then she is entitled to cross-examine them.”
Mr Young, 51, who claims he lost all his money in a disastrous Moscow property venture, was jailed earlier this year for failing to disclose documentary evidence of the payments from friends including property investor Sir Tom Hunter, Mr Tillman, the boss of fashion brand Jaeger, and restaurateur Mr Caring, the owner of The Ivy, Annabel’s and Soho House in London.
In the High Court, Mrs Young also accused HM Revenue and Customs of “corporate corruption” after the agency gave bizarre support to her ex-husband that may cost the taxpayer millions of pounds.
Mrs Young levelled the allegation after HMRC lawyers said they would “vigorously oppose” moves to annul the bankruptcy of Mr Young in 2010. HMRC is listed as one of his main creditors with around £3m in unpaid tax.
However lawyers for Mrs Young, 48, claim the insolvency is bogus and has been used to frustrate the divorce proceedings. She applied to annul the bankruptcy but Christopher Buckley, for HMRC, said: “We will be opposing this very vigorously.” Mr Justice Moor replied: “Don’t they want to get their money? I would have thought HMRC, as a creditor, would be absolutely delighted?”
Mrs Young then stood up and shouted “Corporate corruption” before being told to be quiet by her lawyer. An HMRC spokesman said: “HMRC maintains the highest standards of honesty and integrity at all times in its dealings with all its customers. We strongly reject any comments suggesting otherwise.”