The Evening Standard reported recently that oil trader Michael Prest is facing the possibility of imprisonment after failing to make all of the payments due by him to his ex-wife.
Mr. Prest, said to have a net worth £37.5 million at the time of his divorce in 2011, had been ordered to pay a lump sum of £17.5 million to his ex-wife, Yasmin Prest, together with maintenance for her and their four children amounting to £294,000 a year.
The case ended up before the Supreme Court in 2013, when it was ruled that properties owned by companies of which Mr. Prest was the beneficial owner be transferred to his ex-wife. This ruling, in which seven Justices of the Supreme Court carried out a thorough review of the authorities on ‘piercing the veil of incorporation’, could be a landmark decision which may affect the interaction between family and commercial law.
Last year, lawyers acting for Mrs. Prest sought to have Mr. Prest found in contempt of court after he fell into arrears with maintenance payments. When the case was heard before Mr. Justice Moylan in July 2014, Mr. Prest’s argument that he was impoverished was rejected. He was judged to have wilfully refused or neglected to make maintenance payments totalling £360,000 and was given a four week sentence of imprisonment, suspended for three months. Mr. Prest was told that he would have to serve this sentence unless he made payment of the maintenance arrears to his ex-wife, plus outstanding costs of £40,000, within three months.
The deadline for making payment of the arrears was suspended when Mr. Prest appealed against Mr. Justice Moylan’s decision.
Mr. Prest’s appeal was heard by three judges at the Court of Appeal on 19th March. After hearing legal argument from lawyers representing Mr. Prest and his ex-wife, the judges stated that they would announce their decision at a later date.