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Tiger Charity at Heart of £25 Million Divorce Dispute

In a venomous dispute which involved a collision between divorce and charity law, endangered Chinese tigers were the focus of a case in which a former couple who had devoted their lives to conserving the animals fought it out over a £25 million charitable trust.

The wife, an internationally renowned tiger expert, and her financier husband had formed a formidable team and were instrumental in saving the Chinese tiger from extinction. The couple’s UK-based charity had set up a breeding programme in South Africa with the objective of reintroducing the animals into the wild.

However, their marriage failed and the wife was ultimately removed as a director of the charity. That sounded the starting gun for bitter recriminations and enormously costly High Court litigation in respect of approximately £25 million held in a South African trust.

The wife argued that the trust formed part of a ‘post nuptial settlement’ and should be taken into account when her divorce was finalised and marital assets split. However, the Court found her an ‘unreliable witness’ who was ‘beside herself with grief and anger’ at her removal from the charity’s board. She had become ‘blinded by her desire for revenge’ and this had led to her fabricating evidence.

The Court agreed with the husband that the trust was established ‘with only one intention’ – to benefit the dwindling population of Chinese tigers. Suggestions that there was some ‘ulterior’ or ‘secondary’ purpose behind the trust – to provide financial security and pensions for the couple – were ‘a late invention by the wife’.

The decision meant that the trust’s funds were ring-fenced for the tigers’ benefit and that the wife’s claim for financial relief would be restricted to marital assets worth about £2 million. However, the Court noted that the couple had worked tirelessly to save the tigers and urged the husband to be ‘creative’ in dealing with the wife’s legitimate claim to financial provision.