Russian tycoon ordered to pay US$4.5b in ‘most expensive divorce in history’

Court orders Russian tycoon to pay US$4.5b cash settlement - and that's on top of US$146m pair of Swiss chalets and other real estate in Geneva

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 4:17am


A Swiss court has ordered a Russian billionaire to pay more than US$4.5 billion to his ex-wife in what could become the biggest divorce settlement in history.

The Geneva Tribunal of First Instance said Dmitry Rybolovlev, an owner of the French soccer club AS Monaco, must pay the massive sum to his ex-wife Elena Rybolovleva, of Geneva.

The judgment also granted his former wife property worth US$146 million in Gstaad, Switzerland, where the couple, both 47, owned two chalets.

It awarded her two other pieces of real estate in the ultra-wealthy area of Geneva known as Cologny, where the couple once lived together, but listed no value for either address. And it confirmed her custody of their 13-year-old daughter, Anna. The former couple also have an adult daughter, Ekaterina.

Rybolovleva's lawyer, Marc Bonnant, called it "the most expensive divorce in history", an unheard-of amount for Switzerland and for Russian oligarchs.

But Rybolovlev's lawyer said the judgment's cash order was likely to be whittled down on appeal. "There will definitely be a new appellate review and therefore this judgment is not final given the existence of two levels of appeal in Switzerland," said Tetiana Bersheda.

A separate statement by Bonnant and two other lawyers in the case called the record judgment "a complete victory" for Rybolovleva and said that under Swiss law she was entitled to half the fortune he made during their marriage.

Most of that fortune was transferred to Cyprus-based trusts in 2005.

The three lawyers said Monday's ruling demonstrated that "no one - not even a Russian tycoon who put his fabulous fortune into legal structures such as trusts and offshore companies - is above the law". But Rybolovlev's lawyer suggested the opposite, praising the judgment for "confirming both the validity of the trusts created by Mr Rybolovlev and the validity of the asset transfer to them that occurred long before his wife initiated divorce proceedings".

Rybolovleva had demanded US$6 billion from the man known as the "Fertiliser King", whose fortune from potash mining once made him the world's 79th richest person.

He is currently ranked 147th on the Forbes list of billionaires, with an estimated fortune of US$8.8 billion.

The couple met as university students in Perm, Russia, and married there in 1987. Divorce proceedings began in 2008, when Forbes estimated his worth at US$12.8 billion.

A Geneva court had provisionally frozen Rybolovlev's assets in Switzerland and abroad, but it may prove difficult for Rybolovleva to obtain the money because Switzerland has no legal aid treaty with Cyprus.

In the United States, Rybolovlev and his daughter Ekaterina used trusts to acquire some of the priciest real estate in the country, including a penthouse apartment at Central Park West in New York and a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.

Rybolovlev built his fortune on the back of former Soviet industries, although he had trained to be a cardiologist. He concentrated on developing the potash company Uralkali and transformed it into one of the world's biggest fertiliser producers, despite spending 11 months in jail in 1996-97 while awaiting trial on a charge of ordering a contract killing.

After being acquitted, he sold his controlling share of 53 per cent in Uralkali for a reported US$6.5 billion.

In 2010, he purchased a 9.7 per cent stake in the Bank of Cyprus before buying the Ligue 1 club AS Monaco, which was taken out of royal ownership for the first time.

Thanks to his seemingly bottomless pockets, the club spent US$245 million on summer signings last year. The oligarch lives in a US$300 million penthouse in the city state.

In April last year, a trust acting for Ekaterina purchased Skorpios, the private island of Athina Onassis Roussel, the Onassis shipping empire heiress.

Greek media said the island was sold for US$150 million.