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From the file

The super divorce | The Akhmedovs and a game of hide and seek

The super divorce: The Akhmedovs and a game of hide and seek

The super divorce: The Akhmedovs and a game of hide and seek

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When a High Court Judge awarded Tatiana Akhmedova a record £450m divorce payout, it was only the beginning of a case that went on to become the most expensive family feud in history…


Transcript

[Clip: bus announcement]

Patricia Clarke: So I’ve just hopped off the bus at Vaduz, it’s the capital of Liechtenstein. It’s got a population of about 6,000 people, so I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. It’s really quiet but really, really beautiful. And I’m just waiting to get the bus up to the Stabiq Treasure House.

Jane Martinson, narrating: Tucked away in the snow-capped mountains of Liechtenstein. 

Patricia: Those little bells you can hear in the background, are sheep and there’s a little stream. It’s all very quaint and picturesque, lovely autumnal trees. But then if you turn around and there’s this big concrete eyesore of a building.

Jane, narrating: In this picturesque, tiny landlocked principality sits a giant, red-brick and concrete wedge. It doesn’t, admittedly, look like much from the outside. But inside, well, it’s an entirely different story. 

Patricia: I guess, if you didn’t know what it was, you would never suspect that there were just millions and millions of riches in there. 

Welcome to Stabiq Treasure house.

Stabiq Treasure house promotional film

Jane, narrating:The Stabiq Treasure house. 

Behind its well-guarded walls are over 6,000 square meters of gold and precious things, jewellery, eye-wateringly expensive works of art, watches and classic cars.

Our offering at a glance – vaults and safes for valuables and precious objects of all descriptions. 

Stabiq Treasure house promotional film

Jane, narrating: It’s so strange, this unlikely luxury storage facility. Somewhere for the wealthy to store their most expensive belongings away from prying eyes. 

For sure, this is an important and game changing part of your asset protection strategy.

Stabiq Treasure house promotional film 

Jane, narrating: But to the Uber-rich, this is the perfectly normal world  of asset protection. 

Only the Swiss Customs Authority has the right to look at what’s inside.

Patricia: So I’ve just tried to ring the doorbell about four times and not had a response. It doesn’t look like there’s anyone in the building, the lobby is pretty dark. If you look in, you can see that there’s just like this massive ornate, sort of jar sculpture thing with a big dragon on it. Some gold vases and some posh leather couches, so you can tell that there’s the luxury of this building. I just spotted a massive security camera, pointed it at me as well. Beyond that, there’s nothing really to say that this building is housing millions and millions and millions of pounds worth of goods. 

Jane, narrating: Patricia is a reporter at Tortoise, the newsroom where we make this podcast.

And she’s in Liechtenstein on the trail of a modern art collection that’s been hidden away in this high-security vault. 

It’s a collection thought to be worth $146 million. It includes 11 works of art including Rothko’s Untitled (blue and yellow), painted in 1954, which went on to receive one of the highest prices at auction of any of his artworks. 46 million, to be exact. 

There are Warhols in there too, reportedly his famous Marilyn Monroe screen prints. 

We knew when we sent Patricia there, that getting her inside this treasure chest would be difficult. 

And so it was. 

Patricia: Hi, my name is Patricia. I called you a couple of days ago about potentially coming to see the house and I’m actually standing outside the building. I thought I would try and come and see you. Do you think there’s any chance I could come and meet the team at some point today? I can tell you a bit more about what I’m doing. 

Jane, narrating: The reason she’s there, trying to get inside, is because this building is at the heart of one of the biggest divorce cases ever seen in the UK. 

In 2016 a judge in London’s High Court ruled that the art collection held in Lichtenstein, should be given to a woman called Tatiana Akhmedova, as part of a divorce settlement. 

Only, it didn’t go to Tatiana. 

Instead, the art stored away in this alpine vault remained the property of her former husband, a man called Farkhad Akhmedov. 

He just ignored the court order. In fact, I think he called it “toilet paper”.

So, this is a story about hidden art, mega mansions and superyachts. There are helicopters and private jets, jewellery and gold – all of which make headline writers happy when divorces involving the very rich come to court. But it’s really about the super-rich, where they hide their wealth, and how they ignore the rule of law.

Ross Henderson: You’ll never know what the final number is and what has been organised.

Harry Abdy Collins: I don’t think I’ve come across a case that has been exactly the judgment. 

***

Jane, narrating: I’m Jane Martinson, and in this episode of the Slow Newscast, I’ve been investigating the story of the UK’s biggest-ever divorce order. 

A turbulent, angry case which led the judge to say: “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. With apologies to Tolstoy, the Akhmedov family is one of the unhappiest ever to have appeared in my courtroom. 

It was actually the story of another unhappy family that first led me to the case of Akhmedov versus Akhmedova. 

Almost two years ago, I spent months investigating the secretive twin brothers who own the Telegraph newspaper. The Barclays. 

In May, Sir Frederick Barclay, a knight of the realm, was called ‘reprehensible’ by a high court judge for selling his superyacht and keeping the millions, rather than using them to pay his ex wife after a court order. 

A family feud which had ended up in court. Tick. 

A complicated web of offshore trusts which made it hard to discover who owned what. Double tick. 

So when I read about a woman who had spent years trying to track down her husband’s money, my interest was piqued. It seemed like there was, perhaps, a pattern. 

But this story, Akhmedov versus Akhmedova, starts as many divorce stories do, with two people who fell in love. 

On her website, Tatiana tells how she was a 17-year-old student when she first met Farkhad, who was almost twice her age and had been married before. 

It was 1989, Moscow. 

His suit made him seem like “a very appropriate gentleman”.  

Tatiana was pregnant by the time they married, just a few years later, a time when the breakup of the Soviet Union would lead to huge riches for a handful of men. One of them was Farkhad Akhedmov. 

They moved to London in 1993. An oil and gas trader, Farkhad went back and forth to Moscow while Tatiana stayed in the UK. 

She has described herself as a hands-on mother who cared for and brought up her two sons by herself, apparently without the assistance of a nanny. 

Like so many children of wealthy Russian oligarchs, both their sons went to private schools. They went to university in England too.

After he made his first billion – by selling a stake in a Russian gas producer Northgas, the money snowballed. 

The couple started accumulating. As well as the mansion in Surrey worth £20 million, another in the south of France and one in Kensington, there were two helicopters, some vintage cars, jewellery, works of art and a private jet which cost £40 million.

Tatiana says she became a British citizen in October 2000 But not long after that, cracks started to appear. There were allegations of adultery, on both sides.The unhappiness continued. And by 2013, Tatiana filed for divorce. 

Jane Croft: My name’s Jane Croft. I am the law courts correspondent for the Financial Times. I’ve been covering this beat for the past 12 years and I’ve covered, as part of this job, quite a lot of big money divorce cases. 

So basically this case dates back to 2016, when Farkhad Akhedmov, an oil trader was ordered by the high court to give his wife £450 million 

Jane, narrating: It was – and remains – the largest divorce settlement ever awarded by the High Court in London.

It’s hard to get your head round a sum of money that large. What this meant in real terms was that Farkhad had to give Tatiana all the contents of their family home in Surrey, the collection of modern art valued at £90 million, and an Aston Martin worth £350,000. Then he had to give her another £350 million on top. 

Except… 

Jane Croft: He didn’t actually pay anything. So the wife had to basically start her own legal battles to try and enforce the award. She basically claimed that she’d never received a penny of that, of that sum. This case was bogged down in enforcement because Akhedmov resisted the award and he sort of triggered a whole global tussle over assets.

Jane, narrating: It’s the global reach of a story like this that makes it so complicated. 

It was a court in London that ruled that Farkhad must pay his ex-wife more than £450 million, but the wealth itself was scattered around the world. 

Jane Croft: So there were kinds of lawsuits in different parts of the world ranging from Monaco to Dubai over whether or not Tatiana could see certain assets like a superyacht called Luna. 

Jane, narrating: I’ll come back to Luna the superyacht later, but for now you just need to know that Farkhad bought the yacht from his friend, Roman Abramovich, it has 2 helipads, a huge pool, a staff of 50 and a missile detection system. Even the luxury lifeboats are like limousines and cost $4 million. Each. You get the picture. 

Jane Croft: Tatiana actually sued their eldest son, a boy called Temur, and the offshore trusts in London’s high court and claimed that Temur was helping Farkhad Akhmedov hide money from her.

Jane, narrating: The bitterness of the case comes out in the court documents, which Patricia, who has been helping me on this story, has been going through. 

It’s where Temur, their eldest son, becomes a central character: 

Patricia: There’s this sense when you look through the documents of the fact that he’s trying to sort of hang on to his money and that he and his dad are conspiring against the wife. That much is said by the judge himself in 2015 Temur was given 50 million by his dad and there is a quote from one of the lawyers, to the son, saying: “The whole point of mortgaging the major assets, the boat, the art, the aircraft to suitably located bank is to make it infinitely harder for your mother to enforce against them.” So it’s clear that the son is involved. There’s also a WhatsApp from Farkhad, the dad, to Temur, the son, saying “I will burn this money rather than give it to her.”

Jane: And that one comes out in the court documents 

Patricia: That all comes out in the court documents. 

Jane: So how much money is transferred over to Temur then? And how is that being used to hide the asset? 

Patricia: So there’s large transfers of money to the son. 7.5 million, 50 million. And I think in total it comes to $106 million between January of 2014 and April of 2019. And these are, coming from holding companies across the globe, but in particular, in Lichtenstein and Panama 

Jane: And his father is basically saying, this is not my wealth. I’ve already given this to my son. And therefore my wife has no right over it because it’s not mine. 

Patricia: Exactly. And what ended up happening in this case Tatiana Akhmedova ended up having to sue her own son in order to try to get her hands on some of these assets. 

Jane, narrating: That’s right. Tatiana had to sue her own 27-year-old son for £75 million. It was a pretty extreme move. 

But then again, not many sons end up being called a “lieutenant” in their father’s campaign to hide money. The messages between father and son read out in court are pretty shocking. 

One of Temur’s texts to an associate reads: 

“If the Tatiana problem did not exist, my Father would not move his assets anywhere.”

Then, come the all caps.

“He wants to MOVE OUT OF SWITZERLAND, CUT HER BALLS OF[F], GET DIVORCED, And be a FREE MAN.” 

In a scathing verdict, the judge in the divorce case, Mrs Justice Knowles, accused Temur of lying to court, breaching court orders and failing to provide full disclosure of his assets.

 “I find that he is a dishonest individual who will do anything to assist his father,” she wrote. But fighting her eldest child and her ex-husband was only part of Tatiana’s problem. 

Beyond the 75 million she was fighting her son over, she still had to track down the rest of it. The money a judge said she was owed.  

Jane Croft: The judge did say that Tatiana Akhmedov had been the victim of a series of schemes designed to put every penny of the husband’s wealth beyond her reach.

Jane, narrating: We know from the court documents that those schemes start long before the divorce reaches the high court. 

Patricia: I’ve been going through these massive court documents and just from trying to take notes, I’ve had to make myself a glossary because I think there’s about 20 companies, at least 10 trusts, Simul, Navy Blue, Counselor, Ladybird, Longlaster. 

Jane, narrating: This web of offshore trusts scattered across the world is pretty complicated but of course that complexity, it’s sort of the point. 

Patricia: So the first thing that you see him do in February of 2014, so this is literally just a couple months after Tatiana files for divorce is he buys this €260 million Superyacht from his friend. 

Jane: Is that Roman Abramovich? 

Patricia: Yeah. It’s this insane yacht, I was just watching it on YouTube. It’s got two helipads. It’s got limousines lifeboats, whatever those are, it’s got bomb resistant doors, it’s got a spa, it’s the kind of wealth that you can’t even imagine. But what’s quite interesting about it is that he set up in a holding company in Panama 

Jane, narrating: Panama, as anyone who’s read the Panama papers will tell you, is one of those jurisdictions where it’s really hard to know who owns what. 

Farkhad makes use of several of these so-called secrecy jurisdictions. 

Patricia: So I’ve been running through the court papers, which are just like 350 pages worth of information. I’ve just tried to make myself a little map. So there’s nine jurisdictions that he moves within. The three main ones are Lichtenstein, which I’ve just come back from, the UAE and Qatar. 

Jane: And why are they the main ones?

Patricia: They’ve not got an enforcement convention with England and Wales. 

Jane, narrating: So In short, if your wife is suing you for divorce and there’s going to be an English court order, the smart thing to do is to move your money to places where that court order doesn’t reach.

In this case, a judge made a court order on 15th December 2016, awarding Tatiana 41 per cent of the Akhmedov fortune. 

Five days later, on the 20th of december, a Worldwide Freezing Order was put in place to prevent the assets being moved. But it was already too late. 

Patricia: I think this is probably the most surprising bit of this case for me. So £453 million awarded to her and the judges quote is, it’s clear that the husband was attempting to hide the companies in an offshore trust because he was faced with the wife’s eminent claims in these proceedings. In other words, he’s saying it’s so transparent that you’re trying to hide the money. This is on the 15th of December. On the 16th of December, so literally the following day, Akhmedov transfers the yacht from one holding company to another, and then to another one.

Jane, narrating: By 2018, Tatiana had managed to get Luna, the superyacht, which had been registered in the Marshall Islands , impounded in Dubai. 

And she has a court order in place to seize what was described as a rusty helicopter in the isle of Man.

But she still hasn’t actually received any of the money outlined in the court order. So, she asks for help. 

Jane Croft: So a litigation funder will basically back a legal dispute and pay for lawyers and specialist asset recovery people, accountants, that sort of thing in return for a percentage of any eventual award. It’s a way of them basically being able to take on the case.

Michael Redman: There’s no cashier at the court, you have to go and collect. So people like us, the asset recovery specialists, come in in order to give legal effects to that decision, 

Jane, narrating: This is Michael Redman

Michael: All it is is the decision of the court saying what you’re entitled to X. There’s no automatic mechanism for the payment of that judgment.  

Jane, narrating: He’s the managing director of Burford Capital – a firm of litigation financiers. They typically work on corporate cases, or class action lawsuits. 

But Burford Capital has increasingly been hired by women. Women who need help getting their ex-husbands to comply with High Court orders. 

Women like Tatiana Akhmedova. 

Michael: The person with a piece of paper in their hand is put in the position of having to go around the world and chase their assets and having to force them to give effects to that piece of paper.

Jane: From reading some of the judgements over the last few years, would it be fair to say that this is wealthy men evading national laws, making a fool in a way of national laws because they have global assets. 

Michael: It’s an interesting way of putting it. I think probably they are not evading national laws, but they are exploiting the loopholes that exist between nations when it comes to the enforcement of those kinds of judgments. For example, if the proceeding is happening in England, they may well hire legal counsel, they’ll turn up to those hearings, they’ll be fully represented, they’ll show due deference to the court, et cetera. But when the decision comes down and they have no intention of paying, then they’ll exploit those loopholes that favour the indebtors in those kinds of situations and hide assets, move assets and basically evade or avoid the enforcement of that judgement.

Jane, narrating: The asset recovery specialists then have to track money across multiple jurisdictions. You’ll remember, in the Akhmedov case, there are nine. 

Michael: So you might find that there is an asset in one country, the structure that’s holding it is based somewhere else and the person who is ultimately in control of that is based somewhere else. And all of a sudden you’ve got three different jurisdictions involved. 

Jane: And is this why, when you’re trying to track assets, you end up, there’s a big focus on things like the superyacht, property, because they tend to be things which can be realised or is that too simplistic?

Michael: It can be too simplistic sometimes. I think those, whatever you wanna call them, marquee assets, grab the headlines, grab a lot of attention. But then often the things that realise value ultimately, so they certainly can be pressure points. They certainly can be lucrative, if you get your hands on them and liquidate them at the right time. Obviously things like superyachts depreciate in value, so in some ways they’re less good than cash. And the ideal is getting cash as much as possible because you know, it’s cash.

***

Jane, narrating: This is how the Daily Mail covered the attempts to seize Luna from Port Rashid in Dubai. 

‘SBS veterans hired to storm Russian oligarch’s superyacht’. 

Now, it wasn’t exactly true that former marines from the naval version of the SAS had tried to seize the yacht, but it did make asset recovery sound like something out of a heist movie. 

And when I speak to specialists in the field, they do talk about having to protect themselves against spyware, such as Pegasus, or of using mirrors to check underneath their cars before driving off – so there is definitely a hint of James Bond about this world. 

But day to day it is more mundane; more data capture and legal agreements than clandestine missions in foreign ports. 

Ross Henderson managed money for Farkhad in Switzerland before switching sides and helping Tatiana with her legal case following the divorce. 

Ross: I am part of Sparten group and what we do here is help people, companies, solve problems… very simply. 

Jane, narrating: He can’t talk about the Akhmedovs but he is fascinating on the subject of asset recovery.

Jane: What sort of percentage of your work is divorce cases? 

Ross: 40 per cent? 

Jane: About 40 per cent so it’s quite high. The more I’ve looked into this the more I feel that in so many divorce cases, at whatever level but particularly this kind of amounts of money, it sort of ends up depending on the man’s desire to do the right thing by his former partner. Is that too simplistic?

Ross: I suppose if you take the most extreme. Absolutely. If he is in a jurisdiction that gives him flexibility, then it really is down to what type of individual he is. The ones with low moral fiber tend to go one way as opposed to the other.

Jane: If I am a woman divorcing a very wealthy husband, tell me how you can help me. What sort of thing can you do? 

Ross: The first point is, if you are thinking of getting divorced, you want to really have an idea of where your husband’s assets are, and what he’s doing and what sort of person he is and the likelihood of him doing something untoward. And then once you’ve got the answer to that it’s very simple. You start putting together a picture, and if that’s not something that you can do as an individual then you come to someone like us who can help put together a profile of the individual and we do this through research, be it open source or, you know, sort a boots on the ground, working out a complete matrix of what’s going on.

Jane: We’re not just talking bank accounts are we? We’re talking yachts and properties around the world and offshore trusts and what’s the sort of most complicated, kind of assets that you’ve had to deal with?

Ross: Typically trusts complicate matters. Moveable assets are always hard so boats and planes. They can be removed and put in jurisdictions that are hard to access but if you have the time in the patients, ultimately long term, there’s generally always a way.

Jane: If you’ve got these complicated assets, if you could try to get your hands on something like a building in the UK, that’s probably a sort of wiser cause of action?

Ross: Yes. I mean, that’s the low hanging fruit really isn’t it? If you have a British judgment, assets under the UK law are going to be the easiest ones to go after. You know, it may take some time if there’s layers that you need to unpick, be it companies and trusts et cetera but it’s there and you know it’s not going anywhere. 

Jane: And what’s the sort of average length of time, or what’s the longest time that you’ve ever spent trying to recover assets? Or maybe not just you in your specific cases, but you know, what cases have you heard of?

Ross: On a complex global case, you could easily be going for, for four to six years, maybe a bit longer depending on where it is. I mean, the longest case I’ve heard of is one that was running in Lichtenstein and it was about 17 years and that’s purely due to the nature of the legal system there. 

Jane: How many of these cases actually end up with the women, the wives getting more than a fraction of what the court order handed out?

Ross: That’s a very hard question because you’ll never quite, you’ll never, you’ll never know what the final number is and what has been organized, 

Harry: It’s an interesting project actually to go, go around the houses, finding out exactly how much people got. 

Jane Martison, narrating: That’s Harry Abdy Collins joining in. He works with Ross at Sparten. Harry spent 10 years in the armed forces, where he worked on counter-terrorism among other things. Now he uses his expertise in different, more corporate battles. 

Harry: I don’t think I’ve come across a case that has been exactly the judgment. 

Jane, narrating: So the High Court order and judgment merely ends up firing the starting gun in an arms race to follow the money.  

As long as you have the money to pay of course…

Jane: This may be a difficult question but technology, it seems like technology both is an incredible help and then also sort of a real barrier to doing what you’re trying to do to help people. If you were to say the balance, you know, the use of technology is, is that getting harder or does it help more? Is it friend or foe? 

Harry: Ohh a hundred percent friend. A hundred percent friend. If the amount of data that we’re able to glean through our investigations on individuals, companies, corporations, you know, far exceeds what it ever used to be. You’re often playing cat and mouse with the movable asset and the wonderful thing about the world as it is right now is data and the amount of data that is out there on movable assets. So for example, if it’s a private jet, a private helicopter, quite often a yacht, we can track those fairly easily and then it’s about getting the right freezing orders in the right place.

Jane: You’ve both been involved in many long, drawn out difficult cases, have you ever been frightened?

Harry: I think the priority is really the client. The client quite often is the one who is intimidated by the opposition and we put measures in place to ensure their safety. But it is extraordinary the lengths that some people go to to intimidate their exes. 

Jane: What sort of things?

Harry: Well, you know, if you are a woman on your own fighting against someone with significant resources, if people are doorstepping you or people are employed to sit outside your house and intimidate you, or even just, I mean, the press, getting the press involved in a story and getting you hounded by the press, this intimidation is quite frightening, it can be quite frightening.

Jane, narrating: Ah, yes, the role of the media. 

Harry: Jane it’s a tool, isn’t it? If you are involved in one of these cases and you open up the tabloids at the weekend, or your friends are calling you up saying, I’ve seen this article and everything else, you know, gosh, I didn’t know that happened or I didn’t know this or whatever, it just mounts the pressure up on the individual who is quite a vulnerable person given that they’re going up against such resources. So those tools can grind them down. 

If you’re coming to a battle and you’ve got significant resources then you can pay for more press. Let’s be honest, the press is there as a vehicle that is used in these cases to get a message across that they want to get and I mean, I don’t want to say that it’s, it’s a male or female thing but quite often it is the other party, the lesser party, that comes off comes off worse in the press. 

***

Jane, narrating: While reporting on this story I’ve struggled with calling Tatiana Akhmedova a victim. 

She’s an extremely wealthy woman laying claim to her share of a huge fortune. 

Yet there does seem to be an injustice here. 

And a pattern too. 

The person left chasing the cash is nearly always a woman.

Even with the law on her side she struggles to win against an opponent with more money and more power.

It feels like the system is working for the benefit of the very rich, and they’re nearly all men. 

Of course, the sums of money involved mean women like Tatiana don’t get a lot of sympathy.

Rosie Schumm: No they don’t, it’s because they don’t stop and I suppose it’s that downfall? It’s having that beautiful life? 

Jane, narrating: This is Rosie Schumm, she’s a family partner in the law firm Forsters and she specialises in high net worth matrimonial disputes. 

She suspects that very wealthy men increasingly feel they don’t have to listen to the words of some English judge: 

Rosie: I think there was a complete disregard for judicial hegemony and, and power. I think that is increasing. I think that’s unfortunate, that lack of respect. 

Jane, narrating: Judges anticipate some of the problems, she says, and award women more of a share in an asset that they might be able to get their hands on. A house in Belgravia say. 

Rosie: I think if there is nothing else in the asset pool, that’s when it’s tragic.That’s when it’s absolutely brutal and tragic, you know, and I used the word tragic and I don’t mean to sound overdramatic but I think it is, I think it really is, that you can’t then get anything out of it. And you do see these poor, you know, these poor wives like Michelle Young on this sort of quest on this never-ending quest to get something.

Jane, narrating: Rosie talked about Michelle Young, whose divorce from her property developer husband Scot made headlines, both for the size of the settlement, and for Michelle’s subsequent battle to get the cash. 

Scot Young was suspected of links to the Russian mafia and ended up spending six months in prison for failing to pay. 

He died in 2014 after falling from the balcony of his London flat onto the railings outside. 

Michelle Young claimed throughout that he was hiding substantial assets – and she spent millions of pounds trying to force him to pay. 

Michelle Young speaking on the BBC’s Millionaires’ Ex Wives Club documentary: This was my former home for five years…

Rosie: I think she started her documentary, didn’t she by standing outside what once was her home. 

Michelle Young: This is very hard because this is the first time I’ve been back to this house since we sold it in 2001. 

Rosie: … and it was this beautiful palace behind her. 

Michelle: This is the main driveway here which it starts at the top there. We used to have many cars sitting on the driveway. Ferraris, Bentley’s… Porsches… 

Rosie Schumm: And then you saw her in her flat with her pooch…

[Clip: dog yapping]

Rosie: …and the dog was weeing on the floor or whatever… 

Documentary voice over: For Michelle, the divorce has meant radically downsizing.

Rosie: And it’s sort of like, there’s this huge dichotomy between a former life and a current life. I think people are generally unsympathetic of that. They think, oh well you’re living like me now. There’s a leveling out there. And the fact that she’s pursuing something that she can’t then get, it seemed to be very sad and very tragic. There’s a sort of Shakespearian tragedy to it all really isn’t there? A sort of poignancy that I don’t think… yeah, I think that’s probably why we’re not sympathetic to her but that’s very sad, isn’t it that we’re not?

Jane, narrating: London may have become the divorce capital of the world but it wasn’t always so. The landmark ruling – in which fairness and equality became the yardstick for the division of assets – only became law in 2000. That’s just 20 years ago. 

Jane Croft: It basically dates back to a… what was then the house of Lords, which ruled in 2000 in a case involving two farmers by the name of White that the home-maker and the breadwinner should be able to equally access the fortune and divide the fortune up upon divorce. 

Jane, narrating: The key sentence in that ruling was: “There should be no bias in favour of the money-earner and against the home-maker and the child-carer”.

Jane Croft: It means that the weaker spouse, the weaker financial spouse in a divorce case, is more likely to be awarded a generous award in London than in other countries.

Jane: I know you’ve written in the past about whether London is sort of in danger of becoming sort of it’s, there’s divorced tourism going on. That there’s this rush for people who feel they get a better hearing and it does tend to be women doesn’t it? You’re going to get a better hearing in London than you are in Azerbaijan for example if you’re a woman… is that fair? Or is it something that is an issue? Or does it just show that London is a safe jurisdiction? 

Jane Croft: Yeah, I think, I think there is some talk about sort of divorce, tourism. For example, there is one case at the moment where Natalia Potanina who is the former wife of one of Russia’s richest men and whether or not she can bring her £6 billion divorce claim in England. So the most recent ruling on that was that the Court of Appeal decided that she could bring the divorce claim here against Vladimir Potanin who has reported to have a £20 billion fortune and a controlling stake in one of the world’s largest producers of nickel. She was awarded a $41.5 million of divorce settlement in 2014 by Russia’s courts but obviously she is arguing that she should have got a far larger share of her husband’s fortune. And hence why she’s kind of bringing a claim in London. You know, couples who have got links to London, even if they’ve divorced overseas, and you know, one party believes they’ve been treated unfairly, they can apply for permission to bring their cases to be heard by the English courts under what’s called part three of the Matrimonial Family Proceedings Act 1984.

Jane, narrating: That act allows one party to sue for divorce in the UK if the family has a house here, even if they have been divorced somewhere else. 

In fact, Akmedov also claimed they had been divorced years before in Moscow – the High Court judge simply refused to believe him.

But for all their appearances in the papers, and their very public divroce, we know very little really of the couple at the heart of this story. 

Nearly all of the pictures of Tatiana Akhmedova are of her outside the courtroom, wearing beautiful clothes and looking well groomed. 

The few pictures of Farkhad Akhmedov are mainly of him wearing a suit. Although there’s one of him with his new girlfriend, a beauty queen half his age, on his super yacht. 

Oh yes, did I forget to say? After five years and many millions in court fees, and despite being impounded in Dubai, Farkhad got to keep his beloved yacht. Luna. 

Jane: There are apparently these websites where you can find a yacht…

[Clip: typing noise]

Jane: Ohh here we are, marinetraffic.com. Hang on, let me look for Luna.

Yes, Lunda MH. I presume that is Marshall Islands.

Ooh you can click on a map and see exactly where it is. That’s amazing. You can even trace back to see where it was before.  

Right so, there’s a route tool and you can see that it’s moored in Hamburg, that it came, the last stop before that was Gibraltar, and if I click on the actual map I can see exactly where it’s moored.  

It looks like after years of being impounded in Dubai, it’s now in a shipyard in Elba. Dock 16, in fact.   

Jane, narrating: Earlier this year, in July, the case of Akhmedov v Akhmedova reached a settlement, five years after the order of £453 million was made.

Tatiana walked away with a reported £150 million. That’s a vast sum of money but it’s only one third of the original settlement. And she ended up paying £75 million of it to Burford to finance the fight. 

Yep. That’s roughly half of her final payout going straight to the litigation funders. 

As for Tatiana’s relationship with her son, we may never know if he heeded her hope, given in a sworn statement, that the court case makes him “reflect on the propriety of his conduct.”

Patricia: Hello? Hi. Hi Alexandra, I’m so sorry to bother you again.

Alexandra: Yes, err, yes… 

So I just spoke to my editor who asked if there’s basically, if I would stay until 16.30. I’d have to book a hotel night to stay here overnight so I was just wondering whether there’s any chance of, you know, whether an interview might happen?

Alexandra: Err I just wanted to call you to let you know that I erm spoke to Dr Seeger and I unfortunately have to tell you that there is no interest on our side. Ermm so…

Patricia: Ohh I’m so sorry to hear that. 

Alexandra: Yeah I’m sorry… 

Patricia: Well thank you so much for your time anyway.

Alexandra: I just wanted to call you to let you know that…

Patricia: Okay, no problem. Thank you, bye. 

Alexandra: Thanks for calling, bye. 

Jane, narrating: We never did get to see the artwork hidden away in the Stabiq Treasure house in Liechtenstein. 

Presumably the Warhols and Rothkos are still there, now owned by Tatiana, who got hold of them eventually after what became a really expensive game of hide and seek. 

That game, where the very wealthy hide their assets and then men like Harry Abdy Collins try to find them – it isn’t going away. 

And of course firms like Sparten and Burford can make good money out of it; taking on Tatiana’s fight certainly went quite well for Burford. And as yet, there are very few signs of the political will for a cross-border clampdown on offshore trusts. 

Rosie: There’s only so far that the English courts can go and I think it’s that global pursuit that you’re talking about that would mean a global clampdown. I just don’t see how that’s going to happen anytime, certainly in our lifetime I don’t think it will. 

Jane, narrating: None of the many women we asked to talk to the podcast, including Tatiana Akhmedova, would do so. 

Whether they settle or not, most just want to get on with their lives and avoid the publicity.

Since the agreement, very little has been heard of either Tatiana or Farkhad. All that remains is Tatiana’s website, something that feels like it was set up in a desperate moment, to try to set the record straight. 

Tatiana’s five-year battle has done little to deter others. 

The case of Potanina versus Potanin, set to be heard in high court next year, could make the Akhmedov case seem like small fry. 

She is suing her ex husband, said to be Russia’s second richest man, for £5 billion, which is reportedly about one third of his wealth.

A lot of money – and ink – is likely to be used in that case but whether Natalya Potanina can ever really win is up for debate. 

Working on this story has made me realise that it’s rarely clear who the winners are in these cases. 

And sometimes, it just feels as though they make losers of us all.

Ross: And unfortunately sometimes truth does not win. That’s the nature of people, power and money.