MOSCOW: Natalia Potanina, billionaire oligarch’s ex wife, fights for her 50% share of his empire

BACKGROUND

Natalia Potanina’s name sounds like she is a ballerina with the Bolshoi. Or at least a top ranked tennis player. But she is not. Instead, she is the former wife of one of Russia’s richest oligarchs and close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin – Vladimir Potanin.  Ms Potanina and her husband Vladimir were granted a divorce in 2014.

According to interviews she has granted to the press, in particular one she did with Business Insider in 2016, until her husband handed her divorce papers one night after dinner in 2013, she was of the impression that they had a very strong, loving, happy marriage.

The Potanins came of age in communist Russia and attended the same school and were in the same class at school. They married young, and remained married for 30 years, having tied the knot in the early 1980s. He was not rich at the time, nor was she and they moved into an apartment owned by her family. She has been quoted as saying “when we married he did not have steamships and factories.” But through privatization, all that changed when he formed Interros a Russian conglomorate with interests in mining, energy, real estate and other sectors. This catapulted him to the list of Russian oligarchs that includes others like Vladimir Putin.

 

CHILDREN

The couple has 3 adult children, though the youngest is barely out of his teens. Mrs Potanina claims that since he walked out of their marriage to marry his significantly younger assistant named Ekaterina (Katya for short) that her husband, Mr Potanin has had no contact with his youngest son. Indeed, the only person out of the family he has communicated with acccording to Mrs Potanin, is his daughter, 32 year old Anastasia. This particular issue pains her as a mother since she would like her son to have a relationship with his father and for them to visit together and continue a normal father son relationship. Mr Potanin, who has two other children with his new wife, has not called his youngest boy with Natalia on any of the teen’s last few birthdays or on significant holidays such as New Years – according to his mother.

 

ASSETS

The couple possessed, at the time of their divorce, many enviable assets including two yachts – one named after Anastasia and the other Nirvana. Mrs Potanin has admitted that she enjoyed the lavish lifestyle she led as wife of an oligarch and there are many photos which she has provided to the media that shows her enjoying these trapping of her former marriage. Mr Potanin is reportedly building a third yacht. The couple own a palatial residence just outside of Moscow that is described as being “reminiscent of Versailles.” Here, they were attended by a battalion of servants, security staff and assistants. And of course, there are all the shares, worth several billions, in two companies that Mr Potanin is alleged to own.

 

LEGAL DISPUTE

Mrs Potanina’s commenced her divorce case in Presnensky Court in Moscow and later appealed to  the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow because rather astonishing rulings were issued. One is that the court allowed the husband to “backdate” the date to the divorce by nearly 7 years! This is according to testimony of Mrs Potanin who claims that she was served with divorce papers in 2013 but that her husband petitioned the court for permission to put the date of divorce at 2007 and the petition was granted even though she had photographs and other records demonstrating that the family had been intact up until she was served divorce papers in 2013.

In perhaps a pre-emptive move (though she claims that it is because it is where she feels safe) Mrs Potanin has relocated to London and has been living in a posh apartment next to Westminister Abbey. She has been there or over two years which would allow her to meet the residency requirements to bring her divorce action in London. As everyone knows by now, London is known as the “Divorce Capital of the World” because courts are infamous for awarding huge payouts to wives of some of the world’s richest men. Indeed, if Mrs Potanin were to bring her suit in England, she stands to be awarded nearly £7,000,000,000 pounds. By all accounts, this would be, by far, the biggest payout in London history.

Surely, she will find no dearth of divorce law firms ready and willing to represent her. An attorney at Vardags, one of the most celebrated English firms firms in the Divorce and Matrimonial field, spoke with the Daily Beast recently and it sounded like he was jockeying for the job: “She may well be successful in a plea to the English Courts…Enforcing the final terms across multiple and sometimes challenging jurisdictions is often the final battle…those fighting their case through the English courts can rest assured that they have the best legal team behind them who will not tolerate non compliance.”

Apparently, in the final analysis, the Russian court has thrown out or is expected to throw out her case because her husband was successful in convincing the court that he “has no meaningful assets.” This despite ownership interest in two giant conglomerates Norilsk Nickel and Interros. Acccording to the Kommersant newspaper, Mr Potanin’s lawyers claim that he has given away a lot of his assets, including to the Kennedy Center in the United States as well as charities in France and other countries. Several reports suggest that Mr Potanin offered Natalia anywhere between £32 million and £142 million pounds in settlement and that she refused all offers. Mrs Potanin has refuted these claims. Further, her lawyers claim and she does as well, that her husband has hidden all of his assets in corporations all over the world, including in Cyprus and she will be seeking to have these corporate veils pierced. Further, she claims that her husband has brought sham lawsuits against her in order to remove her and her mother from the marital home. The charge involves very intricate maneuvers she claims her husband made in transferring and selling the home through a couple of corporations he owns and then issuing her a writ in excess of £1 million for failing to vacate.

NEXT STEPS

It appears the next step in this very complex litigation is to start an action in the High Court of London and to hire a forensics team who can assist her in tracking down her husband’s vast wealth and holdings around the world.

 

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