A wealthy Nigerian-born, British-based oil baron has been granted permission to use Nigerian tribal law to appeal a $21 million divorce payout to his former British wife, the Telegraph has reported.
Michael Prest, the 50 year-old founder of Nigerian energy trading firm Petrodel Resources, split from his wife in an acrimonious divorce in 2008. During a British High Court hearing on the divorce in October last year, the presiding judge ordered the tycoon to pay his former wife cash and assets worth over $20 million.
However, Prest has applied to appeal the court’s decision on the grounds that his Petrodel’s assets do not belong to him, but are held in trust for his children, siblings, nephews and nieces in Nigeria, under Nigerian Itsekiri customary law.
The oil baron claims that his company, Petrodel Resources Ltd, was established in 1992 with $13,000 in start-up capital which was provided by his late father. As a result, under traditional law, his company and assets are not owned entirely by him, but by his extended family; he mainly acts as custodian of the wealth.
The tycoon’s attorney Martin Pointer disclosed to the court that under customary law in Nigeria, Prest (who is the first-born son of his family) has a historic responsibility to use the family “inheritance” to look after his siblings and their children.
Prest’s case is also helped by the fact that his younger brother went to a Nigerian High Court in 2009 and obtained a declaration which states that Petrodel Resources is a part of their late father’s estate. Michael Prest also previously acquired a court order from a Nigerian court which forbids him from sharing information about Petrodel and its assets with third parties. Hence, it is difficult to ascertain the true market value of Petrodel resources.
But the former wife, Yasmin Prest, 49, is crying foul. She told the court that Petrodel is “100 per cent owned and controlled” by her former husband. Last October, during the original court case in London, she had claimed that her former husband was worth ‘many tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds’. She demanded a divorce payout of about $40 million, plus about $1 million a year for upkeep of herself and the four children she bore with the tycoon. Prest had previously offered her the equivalent of $35,000 a year and a lump sum of about $2.5 million.
The court has not yet set a date for the full appeal.
Michael Prest, an extremely reclusive oil trader and former protégé of controversial commodities trader Marc Rich, founded Petrodel resources in 2001. The company has extensive oil exploration interests in Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda.
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