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Family Law Solicitors

Burford hit by Dubai divorce ruling on £350m superyacht

Monday, 17 February 2020

A Dubai court has ordered the release of a £350m superyacht at the heart of Russian oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov’s divorce battle, dealing a blow to litigation funder Burford Capital after it staked millions on trying to keep the luxury vessel out of his hands. The Dubai court of appeal has lifted an arrest warrant on the Luna, a 380ft vessel owned by Mr Akhmedov, who blocked an attempt to have the yacht transferred to the ownership of his ex-wife, Tatiana.

Ms Akhmedova was awarded a divorce settlement of £453m in the UK in 2016, but her ex-husband — a former ally of Vladimir Putin — has disputed the decision and refused to pay, claiming that it was superseded by their divorce in Moscow 20 years earlier. The Luna, whose two helipads, nine decks, swimming pool and mini-submarine make it the second-largest expedition yacht in the world, has become the thorniest part of the legal tussle. Burford Capital has been locked in a legal battle for control of the yacht for two years. It successfully impounded the boat in 2018 while it was in Port Rashid in Dubai for repairs, after the High Court in London ordered Mr Akhmedov to transfer the yacht to his ex-wife.

The ruling was upheld by a commercial court in Dubai, but lawyers for Mr Akhmedov have since fought in the local courts to quash the decision. The ruling this month from the court of appeal in Dubai said the English court had “relied upon the principle of sharing the fortune” of a husband and wife under English law, which contradicted the policies of the United Arab Emirates and of Islamic sharia law.

Burford has committed £18m to funding the enforcement of Ms Akhmedova’s divorce settlement in return for about 30 per cent of the sums recovered. It has so far recovered just 1 per cent of the divorce settlement, according to a representative for the oligarch. A spokesman for Mr Akhmedov said: “Luna rightly belongs to a family trust which exists for the benefit of all Mr Akhmedov’s dependants, not merely for that of an ex-wife for whom he has always provided generously and well in excess of the ruling of the Russian court.”

Their bitter divorce row, which has been played out across multiple jurisdictions, has resulted in a tussle over assets, including a helicopter, private jet as well as the yacht. The vessel was built for Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch, but sold to Mr Akhmedov, an Azeri-born billionaire, in 2014. Burford said it would continue to fight to uphold the English court ruling in Dubai and said a further appeal would be heard at the Dubai court of cassation, a higher tribunal. A spokesman for the litigation funder said: “Farkhad Akhmedov is a judgment debtor evading an English court order — as he will discover, nobody is above the law.” The litigation finance company’s enforcement division attracted scrutiny last year after the co-head of the practice, Dan Hall, traded a sex tape featuring a Miami-based billionaire in another case. It added to pressure on the business, whose £4bn valuation had made it the biggest stock on the UK’s junior Aim market until a skirmish with short-seller Muddy Waters sent its shares plunging last August.