The billion-dollar divorce

Magnate may lose half his fortune to high-spending wife in biggest ever settlement
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The Independent US

He was the billionaire who made a fortune through traffic reports. She was his Swedish wife with a legendary love of haute couture. Together their extravagance earned coverage in international magazines. Now, though, they appear bound for the largest divorce settlement in history.

The parting of the ways of David Saperstein, a Texas business magnate and Republican Party donor who reportedly fell for the family's much-younger nanny, and his wife of 23 years, Suzanne, is titillating America's socialite set thanks to the stunning sums of cash at stake. It has even been suggested that it could be the first divorce deal worth $1bn (£560m).

In happier times, the couple were renowned for building what is often described as the most over-the-top house in Los Angeles - a near replica of Versailles close to Beverly Hills, called Fleur de Lys.

"We're just simple country folk trying to keep bread on the table," Mr Saperstein once claimed. But big spending appeared to be a hobby of 45-year-old Mrs Saperstein in particular. Indeed when the magazine Vanity Fair profiled the family in 2002 it claimed that she was "probably the world's No 1 consumer of haute couture and 18th-century furniture". Now Mrs Saperstein has retreated to the couple's 140-acre ranch and 14,800 sq ft house in Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles.

It was during a journey on the family's Gulfstream IV private jet to Texas from Fleur de Lys last July that David dropped the bombshell on his wife. At a stopover in Houston, where he was getting off, he handed her divorce papers. She subsequently made her own divorce filing back in California, where the courts are alimony-friendly.

If Mrs Saperstein wins half of her husband's assets, her prize is likely to surpass the current record for a divorce, set back in 1982 when Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer, paid his ex-wife, Soraya, $890m.

Mr Saperstein's fortune was built from a single brainwave that came to him in 1977 while stuck in traffic. A second-hand car dealer at the time, he founded a company that provided helicopter traffic reports to Houston radio stations if they would advertise his dealerships for free.

The company, Metro Networks, soon began charging for the service and expanded into news and sports. Mr Saperstein sold it to Westwood One, a nationwide provider of radio content, in 1999 for $1.25bn in stock. Today, he runs a high-flying investment firm.

Mr Saperstein reportedly left his wife for the family's 32-year-old Swedish nanny, Hillevi Svensson, described in The New York Post as a younger replica of Suzanne.

The couple may now regret regaling magazines with details of how they met - also on a plane, though of a commercial variety, en route from Europe to the US. They ended up sitting beside one another and flirting until the moment David remarked on his distaste for European women because of their hairy legs, whereupon Suzanne swung a leg over his lap and invited him to run his hands along them.


THE HOUSE: A 45,000 sq ft replica of Versailles. The $100m home near Beverly Hills, dubbed Fleur de Lys, includes a vast banqueting room.

THE JET: A Gulfstream IV, the ultimate status symbol - but it was aboard the plane that Saperstein told his wife he'd be leaving her.

THE FURNITURE: Suzanne was described as probably the world's No 1 buyer of 18th-century furniture - as well as haute couture.