Roman Abramovich is the latest tycoon to part with his money after the collapse of his marriage. The billions at stake put his case in a different league from the marital disputes now before the courts in Britain. Yet the divorce of Chelsea FC’s owner could be part of a growing trend.
Abramovich is one of an increasing number of Russian oligarchs based in London for at least part of the year. Divorce lawyers specialising in international big-money work have noticed a marked increase in cases with a Russian dimension — partly because of England’s unique nondomiciled tax rule that allows wealthy individuals to avoid paying tax on income earned overseas.
There is also what is called the Yukos effect: only three years ago, Russia’s richest man then, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was jailed while Yukos, his oil company, was dismantled and sold off. This has prompted a diaspora of wealthy oligarchs to seek a secure base outside Russia.
The rush to London has also been fuelled by the success of Russia’s economy. Moscow alone is home to more than 30 billionaires — more than any other city in the world — and about a third of Russia’s millionaires.
From an oligarch’s perspective, a move to England can be expensive, as the generous tax system is matched by a divorce jurisdiction that is arguably the most generous in the world for wives. England is the jurisdiction of choice for forum-shopping wives who can be confident that the courts, in an effort to achieve fairness, will recognise their nonfinancial contributions. Awards in big-money cases can generally not be bettered in Russia, or elsewhere.