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Akhmedova v Akhmedov & Ors. [2021] EWHC 545

On 21 April 2021, Mrs Justice Knowles handed down the 16th reported judgment in proceedings brought by a wife, Tatiana Akhmedova (‘W’), in her attempts to enforce an award made at the conclusion of financial remedy proceedings in December 2016 against her ex-husband, Farkhad Akhmedov (‘H’).

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The respondents, who included the parties' eldest son Temur Akhmedov (the 10th respondent), had all received assets from H in order to frustrate W's ability to enforce her award. The length and complexity of the proceedings which commenced with an application issued by W for financial remedies in 2013 is reflected in a judgment running to 404 paragraphs over 125 pages including a contents page, a glossary of actors, a glossary of reported decisions and a chronology. 

The judgment, though arguably more War and Peace in terms of length, opens quoting the opening line of Leo Tolstoy's novel 'Anna Karenina': All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Mrs Justice Knowles remarking that while this family has access to wealth of which most can only dream, it is one of the unhappiest families to have appeared in her court room. Fortunately for Ms Akhmedova the judgment provides a much happier outcome for a Russian wife seeking to divorce her husband than was provided to Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. There is an irony in quoting Tolstoy who said, 'if a rich man is to be truly charitable, he will give away all his wealth as soon as possible' in the context of a case which records the husband's position as follows: "Their eldest son, Temur, confirmed in his oral evidence that the Husband would rather have seen the money burnt than for the Wife to receive a penny of it." [6]. In this case, it seems, only court orders will lead to H and / or his servants, agents and lieutenant parting with his wealth. 

In December 2016 at a final hearing in W's application for financial remedies, Haddon-Cave J (as he then was) ordered H to pay W £435,576,152 in settlement of her financial claims against him on their divorce. The claims pursued by W in this case against H and the 10 other respondents flowed from H's schemes to evade compliance with that order. Both in 2016 and before Knowles J, W was litigating against respondents who deliberately failed to comply with their disclosure obligations in contempt of court orders, and in H's case, his duty to do so.

W sought relief under s. 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 ('IA 1986') and / or under s. 37 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 ('MCA 1973'). Specifically, W asked the court to set aside the transfers H had made to the respondents and to order the immediate recipient to return the assets to her and / or pay to her the value of the original assets received by them to her.  The test for relief to be granted under IA 1986 is set out at paragraphs [79] – [88] and s. 37 at [105] – [111]. A helpful analysis of the differences between the tests and relief available under the two pieces of legislation is set out at paragraph [113].

In respect of both s. 423 IA 1986 and s. 37 MCA 1973, it was argued on behalf of Temur that there was a gateway condition before relief under either piece of legislation could be granted. This was that the grant of relief cannot be satisfied in a situation where, after the impugned transaction, the debtor is left with sufficient assets to meet the liability owed to the claimant. The court rejected those submissions finding them to be misconceived [103] – [104] and [114] – [116].

The court found that Ms Akhmedova had been the victim of a series of schemes designed by H, with the knowledge and assistance of Temur, to place every penny of his wealth beyond her reach. H and Temur together had embarked on a careful and concerted strategy to move H's assets into trusts and financial vehicles in jurisdictions where enforcement of an English order was unlikely to be possible. The court was satisfied that H's purpose in transferring assets to the respondents was to put them beyond W's reach and / or to frustrate or impede the enforcement of any order made by the English court. The precise relief granted to the W and to be paid by each of the Lichtenstein Trusts, Temur and Borderedge to her is set out at [400] – [404].

Case summary by Rachel Cooper, Barrister, Coram Chambers

For full case summary, please see BAILII