Farkad Akhmedov Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A London High Court judge handed down an “enforcement order” on Thursday that the ownership of $540-million superyacht ‘Luna’, now impounded in Dubai, be immediately transferred to the name of the ex-wife of a Russian billionaire who is fighting for release of the vessel amid what’s believed to be the United Kingdom’s most expensive divorce.

Justice Haddon-Cave’s judgement, obtained by Gulf News, is the latest in a string of court orders attempting to recover a $641-million divorce settlement two years ago awarded to ex-wife Tatiana Mikhavilovna Akhmedova against oil and gas tycoon Farkad Akhmedov who is disputing the UK Courts’ jurisdiction.

In February, agents acting on behalf of the High Court temporarily seized the ‘Luna’ in Dubai but last week, Farkad Akhmedov’s family trust, Straight Establishment, won the right to appeal the seizure through an oral hearing at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts.

The DIFC hearing has yet to be heard but may be on the docket as early as next month.
In his ruling in London, Justice Haddon-Cave wrote: “In my judgement, it is clear that Straight is simply another ‘cipher’ and alter ego of [Mr Akhmedov} and another attempt by [him] to evade enforcement.”

The judge wrote that he believed that Akhmedov put the ‘Luna’ in dry dock in Dubai in October 2017 to place it “well beyond the reach of an English Court judgement” but Ms Akhmedova’s legal counsel “Messrs Withers, however, knew better”.

He also wrote that Akhmedov had created Straight as a corporate entity and owner of ‘Luna’ to evade enforcement of the December 2016 divorce settlement.

In his judgement, he asserted that “it is clear from the evidence that Straight was incorporated deliberately to make enforcement of the judgement against {Mr Akhmedov} more difficult by the interposition of a ‘fresh’ corporate entity, against which judgement had not been entered”.

“I am satisfied that the making of an order piercing the ‘corporate veil’ is clearly necessary in the interests of justice. This court’s order and judgement must be taken to the DIFC to be enforced,” he wrote. “It is quite possible that the only order that the DIFC Courts will recognise and enforce is an order of this court based on a finding that [Mr Akhmedov} has used Straight in a dishonest fashion as to evade enforcement of the judgement. There is, conversely, a possibility, that if no such order is made, {Ms Akhmedov’s] efforts to enforce the judgement in Dubai could fail altogether.”

In a statement from London provided to Gulf News on Thursday by Akhmedova’s legal team, her lawyers extolled the ruling.

“Akhmedov has employed a series of evasive and underhand tactics aimed at frustrating attempts to enforce the judgement made by the English Court against him. We are very pleased that the High Court has recognised this today and that Mr Justice Haddon-Cave has taken the uncommon step of ‘piercing the corporate veil’ in recognising that the companies owning Akhmedov’s assets are simply his tools,” the statement read. “It is our hope that today’s judgement, assigning beneficial ownership of ‘Luna’ to Ms Akhmedova, with the cooperation of the DIFC Courts (where proceedings are ongoing) will help to bring about a resolution of this long-running dispute.”

Akhmedov told Gulf News through a spokesperson on Thursday that “this judgement is just another example of how my ex-wife and her legal team have manipulated the English court system in a case which should never have been brought before it. The judgement, like the previous matrimonial award, lacks any legal validity. It will have no bearing on the appeal hearing which the DIFC has properly granted to the family trust which owns the Luna.”

He said the appeal by Straight Establishment “will be heard next month. Any idea that the yacht can be sold or handed over to Ms Akhmedova is fanciful.

“For that to happen — by the time all legal procedures were exhausted — would take years. By then, the yacht’s value could have depreciated to such an extent that, even if Tatiana was ultimately victorious, it would be a completely hollow victory since the vessel could by then only be sold for scrap. In this scenario, the only winners would be the lawyers,” he said.

With nine decks, two helipads, 10 VIP rooms and one of the world’s largest swimming pools on a superyacht, 115-metre-long Luna is one of the largest and most expensive private vessels in the world and is moored in Port Rashid after being temporarily seized in February.

The case so far

December 2016: Tatiana Akhmedova was awarded a $641-million divorce settlement by the British courts against her ex-husband Farkad Akhmedov in what was believed to be at the time the largest single divorce settlement in the UK history.

February 8, 2018: The Dubai International Financial Centre Courts ordered the ‘freezing’ of Luna to prevent the ship from leaving Dubai.

April 10: The DIFC Courts granted permission to Akhmedov’s trust, Straight Establishment, to seek appeal of the original ‘freezing’ order and ask for an “oral hearing” before the court to argue their case.

April 19: Justice Haddon-Cave in London orders Farkad Akhmedov and Straight to “vest M.V. ‘Luna’ in Ms Akhmedov’s name”.