The Court of Appeal last week upheld a July 2014 decision of Mr Justice Moylan that an oil trader worth “conservatively” £37.5million must pay to his wife £360,200 of outstanding maintenance payments or go to prison for four weeks.
Michael and Yasmin Prest made headlines in 2013 when, following a decision of the Supreme Court, Mr Prest was ordered to pay to his wife a lump sum of £17.5million. As part of that decision Mr Prest was also ordered to pay substantial ongoing maintenance to his wife – a figure calculated as 2% of the remaining lump sum unpaid to Mrs Prest.
Mr Prest failed almost entirely to make any of these maintenance payments and by July 2014 owed his wife £360,200. After a farcical series of adjournments due to Mr Prest declaring himself unavailable, often on the day itself of the hearing, Mr Justice Moylan imposed a 4 week prison sentence on Mr Prest, but suspended it provided that he paid the entire debt by 28 October 2014. Mr Prest refused to pay and appealed the judgment.
The Court of Appeal rejected all six of Mr Prest’s grounds of appeal and upheld the order of Mr Justice Moylan. In particular, McFarlane LJ, giving the leading judgment, stated that it was not acceptable for Mr Prest to pick and choose which household expenses he pays whilst at the same time persistently failing to pay the court ordered maintenance as this undermines the whole purpose of the court order.
Mr Prest must pay the entire £360,200 debt by 28 September 2015 or face 4 weeks in prison. Given that Mr Prest has Nigerian citizenship and is not currently in the UK, it remains to be seen whether this sentence will ever actually be enforced.
Although relatively rare, Mr Prest is not the first multi-millionaire to be committed to prison for failures during financial proceedings upon divorce. In 2013, Scott Young (who at one point was allegedly worth £400 million) was committed to prison for 6 months for failing to make full financial disclosure.
Mr Prest’s lawyers have indicated that he intends to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court.