LONDON • A London court has ordered the seizure of a luxury US$492 million (S$645 million) yacht owned by a Russian billionaire as judges sought to enforce one of the largest divorce payouts in British history.
The court ruled that Mr Farkhad Akhmedov should transfer ownership of the 115m MV Luna, currently impounded in a dry dock in Dubai, to his wife, Mrs Tatiana Akhmedova.
The judge granted the order to uphold his earlier £453.5 million (S$836 million) judgment.
Judge Charles Haddon-Cave said that Mr Akhmedov tried to hide his ownership of the Luna behind a group of companies and moved the ship to Dubai in the belief that it was "well beyond the reach of an English court judgment".
The nine-deck yacht, which has 50 crew and two helipads, was built for another Russian billionaire, Mr Roman Abramovich, before Mr Akhmedov bought it in 2014.
Bankers and other financial professionals are often at the centre of the biggest British divorces.
London courts have gained a reputation as being a more sympathetic place to play out high-stakes cases, as judges generally order a 50-50 split of assets, giving equal weight to the work of a wealth creator and a homemaker.
In the final days of the court proceedings, the billionaire changed his ownership of the Luna to another of his companies.
The transactions form part of the billionaire's "continuing campaign to defeat Akhmedova by concealing his assets in a web of offshore companies", Justice Haddon-Cave wrote, declaring that the prior deals be set aside.
The Luna, which also boasts a 20m outdoor swimming pool, eight smaller boats and a mini-submarine, has a value of £346 million, according to the judgment.
Mr Akhmedov said he had supported his wife after their marriage was dissolved in Russia. He blamed cynical lawyers for later filing for divorce in London, and linked the situation to bad relations between British ministers and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Can it really be a coincidence that this is all happening while the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's comments" make it plain that "the UK seeks to seize assets belonging to wealthy Russians," Mr Akhmedov said in an e-mailed statement.
The British order was made after the judge said the billionaire must pay 41 per cent of his assets to his wife in December 2016.
The couple met in 1989, married four years later and moved to London, where the wife has lived with the children ever since, according to the legal arguments and the 2016 ruling. The marriage ended in late 2014.
"Any idea that the yacht can be sold or handed over to Mrs Akhmedova is fanciful," Mr Akhmedov said in a separate statement. "For that to happen - by the time all legal procedures were exhausted - would take years. By then, the yacht could have depreciated."
The judge said that they needed to move quickly to enforce the order over the boat.