Russia's second richest oligarch faces £5bn divorce showdown in London

Russia’s second richest oligarch faces £5billion divorce showdown with his ex-wife in London after she got ‘just’ £65million payout from the metal tycoon

  • Natalia Potanina, 59, seeking around £5billion from 60-year-old Vladimir Potanin
  • She lost her legal battle against the businessman in London’s High Court in 2019
  • Court of Appeal ruled today she can bring financial claim against him in England
  • In her ruling, Lady Justice King said: ‘The matter will therefore proceed to trial’

Russia’s second richest oligarch faces a £5billion divorce showdown with his ex-wife in London after she got ‘just’ a £65million payout from the metal tycoon.

The Court of Appeal ruled Natalia Potanina, 59, can bring a financial claim against 60-year-old Vladimir Potanin in the English courts.   

She is seeking around £5billion from the businessman, who is worth more than £21.375billion ($30bn) according to Forbes magazine, following the breakdown of their marriage.

Mr Potanin successfully blocked his ex-wife’s attempt to bring a case against him in England in November 2019, with a judge at London’s High Court ruling that Mrs Potanina’s claim was an example of ‘divorce tourism’.

But, in a ruling today, the Court of Appeal cleared the way for Mrs Potanina to bring what could be the highest-value divorce case in English legal history.

The Court of Appeal today ruled that Natalia Potanina, 59, can bring a financial claim against 60-year-old Vladimir Potanin (both pictured above) in the English courts

Mrs Potanina, pictured in October 2019, is seeking around £5billion from the businessman, who is worth more than £21.375billion ($30bn) according to Forbes magazine (file photo)

Lady Justice King ruled the decision to prevent Mrs Potanina from making an application for financial relief in England should be overturned, saying: ‘The matter will therefore proceed to trial.’

The judge added: ‘The fact that the appeal has been allowed and that the wife may therefore proceed to make an application… for financial relief should not be taken by either party as an expression by this court of any view as to the merits or otherwise of that application.’

The couple married in Russia in 1983, where they lived throughout their married life, and have three adult children.

Mr Potanin, who owns a Russian ski resort, made his wealth in metals following the break-up of the Soviet Union but has previously disputed that his total worth is in excess of £15billion. 

He rose to the ranks of deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin from 1996 until the following year, and preserves ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The Court of Appeal’s judgment said the couple ‘were not well off’ in the early days of their marriage, ‘but the opportunities to create wealth in Russia during the 1990s were such that the husband accumulated vast wealth’.

Mr Potanin claims the pair separated in 2007 but did not legally separate ‘in order to protect their youngest child from the distress of his parents’ divorce’.

But Mrs Potanina argues that they did not separate until 2013, which came as a ‘bolt out of the blue’. He is reported to have admitted to an affair with a junior employee, who he then married and had two children with. 

Mr Potanin pictured with his second wife, Ekaterina. The businessman, who owns a Russian ski resort, made his wealth in metals following the break-up of the Soviet Union

The Court of Appeal’s judgment said the couple ‘were not well off’ in the early days of their marriage, ‘but the opportunities to create wealth in Russia during the 1990s were such that the husband accumulated vast wealth’ (pictured: Mr Potanin and his first wife)

A Russian court found that the couple separated in 2007 and awarded Mrs Potanina around £30million – although she says she should have been awarded billions of dollars.

Mrs Potanina, who now lives in London, previously argued she was the victim of a ‘grave injustice’ and was not given a fair share of the marital wealth because of her ex-husband’s ‘wealth, power and influence’ in Russia.

Her lawyers told the Court of Appeal in January that Russian courts deal with divorce settlements by equally dividing the parties’ assets, but do not share any assets owned through trusts or other ‘corporate vehicles’.

This meant Mrs Potanina’s attempts to get half of the assets ultimately owned by her ex-husband have been ‘fruitless’, the Court of Appeal said.

Mrs Potanina, who now lives in London, previously argued she was the victim of a ‘grave injustice’ and was not given a fair share of the marital wealth because of her ex-husband’s ‘wealth, power and influence’ in Russia (file photo)

The judge said the High Court wrongly overturned a previous decision allowing Mrs Potanina to bring a claim for financial relief in the English courts (file photo)

In the court’s ruling, Lady Justice King – sitting with Lords Justice David Richards and Moyland – said the approximate £30million Mrs Potanina received ‘made her a rich woman’.

But she added: ‘Everything is, however, relative. The wife’s settlement represented only a tiny proportion of the vast wealth of this family, all of which had been accumulated during this very long marriage.

‘Further, given that at the date of the set aside hearing she was still only 58 years old, arguably the sum she received would nowhere near meet her long-term needs when considered by reference to the lifestyle to which she had long been accustomed.’

The judge said the High Court wrongly overturned a previous decision allowing Mrs Potanina to bring a claim for financial relief in the English courts.

Lady Justice King concluded: ‘In the event that the parties cannot reach some sort of compromise in this long-running and expensive litigation, the case will be determined with the benefit of oral and, I anticipate, expert evidence by a High Court judge in due course.’    

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