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Court awards GBP64 million settlement to Laura Ashley businessman’s ex-wife

Monday, 10 April, 2017

*UPDATE on 7 April 2017: The England and Wales High Court (Family Division) decision in Chai v Peng & Ors [2017] EWHC 792 (Fam) (06 April 2017) has now been published.*

Pauline Chai, ex-wife of Malaysian businessman Khoo Kay Peng, has received a GBP64 million financial remedy award in the England and Wales High Court, after a 42-year marriage that produced five children.

Chai claimed that, by fulfilling her role as a 'homemaker', she had made an equal contribution to the marriage as that of her husband. Chai's lawyer, Ayesha Vardag, said the case 'has now ended in the affirmation of the principle of fair sharing'.

Peng, now 78, is the chairman of Malaysia United Industries, a global investment company. He also has interests in the Laura Ashley retail chain, and owns ten hotels in Britain.

The couple lived in Malaysia until Mrs Chai moved to England and began divorce proceedings in 2013. Peng contended that the England and Wales High Court had no jurisdiction, and started his own divorce proceedings in Malaysia, where he remained. Within a year they had run up legal costs of at least GBP1.6 million.

In March 2014, the High Court provisionally accepted, based on Chai's English residence in a former matrimonial home in Hertfordshire, that the case came under the jurisdiction of the English courts. It awarded her a time-limited maintenance settlement of GBP35,000 per month, plus some legal fees. The case was then adjourned pending a decision on final settlement.

Chai sought a full 50 per cent of the GBP205 million matrimonial estate, based on the length of the marriage and her homemaking role. Peng opposed this on 'special contribution' grounds, claiming that he had made a much greater contribution to the family's wealth, and that an equal sharing award would not be fair.

The full judgment has not been issued at the time of writing, but press reports seem to indicate that the High Court, on 5 April 2017, took both parties' claims into account. Chai has not been awarded the 50 per cent stake she sought in the matrimonial assets, but nonetheless received one of the largest-ever financial provision awards granted by an English court – though still much lower than those in the Hohn and Berezovsky cases.

'It is likely that the full judgment will represent a further refinement of the concept of special contribution as a defence to financial claims in divorce', commented Henry Hood of Hunters Solicitors. 'Awarding GBP64 million suggests that the judge preferred Ms Chai's case to Dr Peng's.'

Sources