Oil Trader Prest Faces Jail in U.K. Case Over Divorce Payments

An oil trader faces jail after failing to make alimony and child-support payments of more than 400,000 pounds ($680,000) while his ex-wife’s lawyer said he took vacations to France and Italy.

A lawyer for Yasmin Prest told a London court today that her ex-husband, Michael Prest, “cannot continue to defy the court,” and should be found in contempt for failing to make the payments. A lawyer for Michael Prest lost a bid to delay today’s hearing because his client is in New York and in poor health.

Yasmin Prest won a U.K. Supreme Court ruling in June 2013 giving her the right to force offshore companies owned by her former husband to turn over assets as part of a 17.5 million-pound divorce award. She argues that her ex-husband, who another court said was worth an estimated 38 million pounds, has failed to make annual payments in the case.

Michael Prest’s Petrodel Resources Ltd. held several U.K. properties in trust for him, and the Supreme Court gave Yasmin Prest access to them to fulfill the award. The judgment was the first to pierce the corporate veil in a divorce case, breaking the traditional legal separation of personal and corporate assets.

Michael Prest said in court documents that he has made payments totaling almost 230,000 pounds, in addition to covering their four children’s school fees and his ex-wife’s staff.

“There have been various sums paid by Mr. Prest,” his lawyer, Sarah Dines, said. Adding together all that he has paid, “the sums are effectively extinguished,” she said.

The payments aren’t in line with the court ruling, Jeremy Posnansky, Yasmin Prest’s lawyer said.

Willful Default

“This is a particularly bad case of willful default and deliberate non-compliance to pay maintenance for the children,” Posnansky said.

Michael Prest’s Petrodel resources is no longer operational, according to the statement read to the court by his lawyer, Sarah Dines.

“His oil trading days are over,” she said.

Still, he continues to “live well and extravagantly,” Posnansky said. The lawyer detailed holidays in 10,688 pound-a-week Tuscan villas, a luxury ski chalet in Meribel, France, costing at least 64,900 pounds for a week, and staying in suites at London’s Halkin Hotel.

“The reality is that in substance Mr. Prest won’t pay if it goes to Mrs. Prest,” Posnansky said. “It is obvious he has the means to pay.”

Past divorce rulings in the British capital have tended to favor the spouse with fewer assets, leading a U.K. appeals court to call the country the “divorce capital” of the world. The Supreme Court in the Prest case sought to issue a measured opinion that addressed the facts of the case while limiting the right to pierce the corporate veil, lawyers said.

“Non-Specific” Illness

Michael Prest asked to postpone the hearing until he had fully recovered from a “non-specific” illness, which has worsened in recent weeks. He is currently in New York on holiday with his children.

A letter written on his behalf by a doctor “is extremely vague,” and “doesn’t indicate the diagnosis,” Judge Andrew Moylan said as he dismissed the application on the grounds that Michael Prest has “manipulated” the court process since it began.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.