UK court orders Laura Ashley boss to pay US$80m divorce settlement to ex-wife, a former Miss Malaysia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 10:04pm

The 78-year-old boss of Laura Ashley has been ordered to pay his ex-wife £64million (US$80 million) to settle their long-running divorce row.

Pauline Chai, who was crowned Miss Malaysia in 1969, was seeking £100million from Khoo Kay Peng following their split after 42 years of marriage. She claimed their assets were worth at least £205million.

She claimed she had contributed to her husband’s success by being a “traditional” wife, and that she and Khoo had made a sharing agreement entitling her to half of the family wealth.

Khoo, who is non-executive chair of Laura Ashley Holdings, argued that his former wife should only receive £9million.

On Thursday, Mr Justice Bodey ruled Chai should receive a £64million settlement made up of cash and property.

Chai and Khoo married in 1970 and had five children together before splitting in 2012. Since separating, they have spent more than £6million between them on lawyers to fight their financial dispute, which has been closely watched in Malaysia and the UK.

In January, lawyers representing Chai said she had been granted a decree absolute, nearly four years after filing for divorce. A family judge had signalled the end of the marriage a year ago by granting a decree nisi.

Khoo, who is based in Malaysia, said the marital home was in Malaysia and believed a judge there should decide on the division of money.

He said Chai wanted the hearing to be held in England because an English judge would give her a more generous award, while she argued they moved their home to Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, before separating and therefore decisions should be made in an English court. Khoo has since returned to Kuala Lumpur.

During the hearings, Khoo compared Chai to Imelda Marcos because of her love of shopping and her 1,000-strong shoe collection.

Chai said her ex-husband had “always” told her “what’s mine is yours”.

Chai claimed she and Khoo had made a sharing agreement and said she owned half of the “family’s business empire”. She said he was the “paper owner” but, in substance, assets were jointly owned.

“I looked at marriage in the traditional way,” Chai had told Mr Justice Bodey at hearings in the family division of the high court in London. “He is the breadwinner and I stayed at home and looked after the children. It was a daunting task.”

Bodey’s detailed ruling on exactly who gets what in the financial settlement of assets is expected to be published in the near future.

The case was heard in private, but journalists were granted the right to name Khoo and Chai and report some information.