As the British edition of The Times reported, Arkady Rotenberg, a friend of President Vladimir Putin, spent more than two years keeping the details of his divorce proceedings with Natalia Rothenberg under the British law. The wife of the Russian oligarch is permanently residing in Surrey. In 2015, Rothenberg's lawyers persuaded the judges to grant him the right to secrecy, as a "personal threat due to extra-sovereign wealth" could arise. Arkady Rothenberg could not make any payments, for, as he claimed, his assets in the UK and the EU amounting to $ 3.1 billion (£ 2.2 billion) were blocked due to sanctions.
Previously, The Times already reported that Natalia and Arcadia Rotenberg resorted to this type of judicial protection, which relies on all British citizens, but which is not always used. Now the decision of the Supreme Court (Supreme Court), this protection from the divorce process Rotenberg removed. Nevertheless, the facts of financial settlements between ex-spouses are still private information. It is known only that Natalia will receive a mansion in the county of Surrey worth 35 million pounds and an apartment in London worth 8 million pounds. According to The Times, Russian oligarchs prefer to do their business through English courts, taking the opportunity to close the details of the processes from the public, which causes discussion among both lawyers and journalists.
Putin crony Arkady Rotenberg loses right to secrecy in Britain
Oligarch’s activities revealed after Times appeal
A billionaire crony of President Putin has lost the blanket anonymity that has shrouded his activities in the British courts after a two-year legal battle with The Times.
Arkady Rotenberg, the Russian president’s former judo sparring partner, enjoyed years of anonymity in a dispute with his former wife Natalia, who lives in Surrey. He argued that he could not be ordered to make a divorce payout to the 37-year-old socialite because his EU assets had been frozen.
Mr Rotenberg, 66, is barred from coming to Britain under EU sanctions. His $3.1 billion (£2.2 billion) fortune stems largely from Kremlin-awarded contracts including projects for the controversial 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. His engineering company is building a bridge linking Russia and Crimea. The western sanctions were imposed in 2014 after President Putin’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.
Divorce cases do not attract automatic anonymity but in 2015 lawyers for the oligarch persuaded two senior judges to grant him protection. The lawyers cited Mr Justice Cobb, who two years earlier agreed that the couple’s “affluence and status” made them vulnerable to kidnap or attack. The judges accepted the claim that their “extraordinary wealth” put their lives at risk.
Secrecy orders not only prevented anyone from reporting their dispute but also banned any mention that Mrs Rotenberg lived in Britain, even though she was broadcasting her socialite lifestyle, including trips to Royal Ascot and charity galas, on Twitter and Instagram. The Russian media were free to report on the couple.
The Times argued that the couple were seeking protection afforded to almost no British citizen and it was a matter of public interest that one of Mr Putin’s closest allies was litigating his affairs in the British courts.
Mr Rotenberg’s argument that it would be illegal for him to pass assets to his wife because of the sanctions regime bolstered the case for publication, the newspaper added.
A Supreme Court decision, published yesterday, denied the Rotenbergs permission for any further attempts to maintain secrecy. Baroness Hale of Richmond, president of the court, said that the oligarch’s claim for a further appeal “does not raise an arguable point of law” and ordered that his name could be published.
It followed a Court of Appeal ruling last October that evidence of a security threat to the Rotenbergs was “slender in the extreme”. That court rejected the reporting restrictions sought by Mr Rotenberg but the oligarch prolonged the existence of the anonymity orders by applying for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Times intervened in 2016 after the Rotenbergs obtained a contra mundum order that would have given them anonymity until at least the middle of the next decade.
Adam Wolanski, for Times Newspapers Ltd, said that the order “would prevent reporting of anything which connects Mrs [Rotenberg] to this jurisdiction [and] allow her to live an existence completely shielded from public view”. Details of the financial settlement between the couple remain private. It includes arrangements for use of their £35 million mansion in Surrey and an £8 million London apartment.
Russian oligarchs are increasingly seeking to make use of the UK courts, whether to fight divorce settlements or other business disputes, and often under the cloak of anonymity.
Judges are at loggerheads over whether divorce battles should be private despite moves in recent years to open up the family courts. Mr Justice Holman says that there is a “pressing need” for more openness, while Mr Justice Mostyn believes that such disputes are “quintessentially private business”.
Pia Sarma, editorial legal director for Times Newspapers, said: “Secrecy in the court system is a growing concern. The press has a duty to uphold the principle of open justice and act as the eyes and ears of the public in the courts. The Times will resist any attempts to erode those principles.”