In what Court of Appeal judges called an exceptional divorce case, a Russian oligarch’s solicitor has been ordered to give evidence regarding the location of his client’s assets, including a £90 million art collection.
Communications between lawyers and their clients are ordinarily protected by legal privilege. Yet, on Tuesday 27 February, the Court of Appeal in London upheld an order for Mr Akhmedova’s solicitor, Anthony Kerman, to attend Court to give evidence about the location of his client’s assets, including his art collection. Rejecting Mr Kerman’s claim that the information sought was privileged, the Court of Appeal affirmed that legal advice privilege does not protect communications between lawyers and third parties (per paragraph 53 of the judgment).
Other commentators noted that there is no legal advice privilege where the solicitor is acting not as the client’s legal adviser, but as the client’s “man of business”. Mr Kerman had been questioned only about two factual topics. He was not asked about his dealings with his clients, his instructions from them, nor his communications with them, nor about any advice he may have given them. Had Mr Akhmedova been asked those factual questions, he would have had to answer them, and the Court held there was no reason why his solicitor should be in a different position.
The decision follows the record £453 million divorce settlement awarded to Ms Akhmedova by the High Court Family Division in 2017. The marriage had already been dissolved in Russia but Ms Akhmedova sought a new settlement and 41.5% of her oil-and-gas-tycoon-husband’s fortune in London’s divorce court.
According to Ms Akhmedova’s barrister, since the 2017 ruling, Mr Akhmedova, who is worth over £1 billion, “has not paid a penny” to his former wife. He is also said to have moved his £90 million modern art collection from Switzerland to Liechtenstein in the month before the divorce trial.
Until the Court of Appeal ruling was published on Tuesday, unanimously dismissing Kerman’s appeal against the order to give evidence about his client’s assets, Mr Akhmedova’s case had been anonymised and all that was known was that his art collection was held by “entities in Liechtenstein”. Mr Akhmedova complained that the Court order proved there was “no justice” for him in British court:
“The British courts should never have sought to interfere in a former marriage which took place in Russia”, Mr Akhmedova stated. “I shall continue to defend all my rights in other jurisdictions… I believe other courts will act in a more reasonable and less partial manner than the British courts have done”.