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Investor CEO in $1.3 Billion Divorce Denies Being Married

Investor CEO in $1.3 Billion Divorce Denies Being Married

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A U.K. investment executive is fighting to keep the bulk of his 1.1 billion pound ($1.3 billion) fortune in a divorce case that will turn on whether he was really married.

Asif Aziz, founder and chief executive officer of the real estate investment company Criterion Capital Ltd., says he was never married to Tagilde Aziz under English law, in a case that lawyers say is one of the largest divorce cases ever in a U.K. court.

Tagilde Aziz counters she is the mother of his four children and that he “presented to the world” that they were married. She is seeking a “fair share” of his wealth, which she values at 1.1 billion pounds.

The dispute at a London court Wednesday centers on whether an event that took place in Malawi in 2002, and a previous ceremony in Wimbledon in 1997, were valid weddings.

Tagilde Aziz says she was already pregnant when they held the south London “nikah,” a religious ceremony, at the insistence of his family. She says she hadn’t divorced her first husband at the time.

Five years later, she says they had another ceremony at the home of his uncle in the African country with a “lavish feast.”

She says he is the “puppet master” behind “ferocious litigation” that she faces in the U.K. and Gibraltar.

‘Informally Adopted’

Asif Aziz, for his part, argues that “no ceremony took place at all” in Malawi. He calls the Malawi affair an excuse to obtain “a certificate of convenience” that would allow them to get a passport for a child that they had “informally adopted.”

“The parties have never been married, therefore there’s no marriage to be dissolved by this court,” Richard Harrison, the lawyer representing Asif Aziz, said at a hearing Wednesday. “I mean not married as a matter of English law.”

Tagilde Aziz’s lawyer declined to comment after the hearing. Calls to a lawyer for Asif Aziz wasn’t immediately returned. The case had been held in private until Wednesday’s hearing because disputes over the validity of a marriage must be in public under U.K. law.

Bankers and other financial professionals are often at the center at some of the biggest U.K. divorces. London courts have gained a reputation as being a more sympathetic place to play out high-stakes divorces, as generally speaking judges order a 50-50 split of assets, giving equal weight to the work of a wealth creator and a home maker.

The ultimate ruling on whether the couple was married will be a big factor in Tagilde Aziz’s final recovery, according to Graham Coy, a London divorce lawyer who isn’t involved in the case.

“If he were able to satisfy a court that they were not married, the wife would still get something but it would probably be substantially reduced,” said Coy, a partner at Stowe Family Law.

The amount of assets in the case is another source of controversy.

‘Man of Straw’

Court documents prepared for Wednesday’s hearing on behalf of Tagilde Aziz said Asif Aziz had argued that “he has no capital, is a man of straw and has accumulated debts as a result of these proceedings in excess of 600,000 pounds.” He was arguing that his income is only 400,000 pounds per year, it said.

Funds overseen by Criterion have invested in sites such as the Trocadero entertainment complex in London’s Piccadilly Circus, according to its website, and its most recent accounts show its revenue in the year to March 31, 2016, was 4.3 million pounds.

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