|Wife Fails to Get Tiger Charity Included in Divorce Settlement|
A charitable trust set up by a husband and wife to protect rare Chinese tigers was never intended to provide a future income for the couple and should not be considered in the wife's financial remedy application, the England and Wales High Court has ruled.
The couple, Stuart Bray and Li Quan, married in 2001. Even before then they had become dedicated to the cause of tiger conservation. They established a UK-based charity called Save China's Tigers in 2000, and in 2002 set up a Mauritius trust called Chinese Tigers South Africa Trust (CTSAT), largely funded by Bray. For the next 12 years they spent much of their time working together for the cause, with the support of the Beijing government. Part of the effort was the setting up in South Africa of a breeding environment for Chinese tigers loaned to them by the Beijing government.
However, they later fell out. Bray removed his wife from the charity project and they are now divorcing.
In November 2012, Li Quan applied to the English courts for a financial settlement. Part of her claim was that the trust's assets should be considered in the award, because, as her counsel suggested, there is in fact a 'complex web' through which Stuart Bray ultimately intended to extract funds back from the Mauritius trust, CTSAT, for himself.
She claimed that CTSAT was a dual-purpose vehicle, established not only to advance the cause of the charity but also to provide financial benefit and support for the husband and wife personally over the long term. In essence, she said, CTSAT and its related corporate vehicles were a post-nuptial settlement.
CTSAT has assets which are worth tens of millions of pounds, perhaps as much as GBP25 million. There are now almost no matrimonial assets outside it. The determination of this part of the wife's claim is thus crucial to the award, noted the family court judge, Mr Justice Coleridge.
Li Quan presented large amounts of evidence to support her case, including assertions that the trust deeds enabled the creation of subsidiary entities (such as other limited companies) that the couple could benefit from, for example a company set up to buy the matrimonial home in South Africa. The money used for that purchase was provided by Bray to the trust in the expectation that it would be used to benefit the couple in that way, she said. It also gave them direct benefits by paying for services for the parties which were not commercial arm's length transactions. She also alleged that Bray's motives in founding the trust had been at least partly to shelter his fortune from the attentions of the Revenue, including the Internal Revenue Service.
Moreover, she claimed, the charity's agreement with the Chinese government was scheduled to come to an end within two years, after which the money would be available for redistribution for the benefit of the parties.
Bray disputed most of these assertions. He accused his wife of 'putting forward many disingenuous, misleading and provocative statements', and claimed that in reality the tiger breeding project was 'very fragile' and was likely to run out of cash in a couple of years. He said she had always been well aware that the trust was created solely for the purpose of furthering the charity project, and that suggestions at the time of the creation of the trust that either of them might be beneficiaries were specifically rejected. This claim was backed by Bray's professional advisor, Richard Cassell TEP.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Coleridge remarked that Li Quan's case was that the documents available did not tell the true story, and therefore, he said, everything depended on their oral testimony. He had no doubts about his conclusion, which was in Stuart Bray's favour. There was, he said, no evidence of past, present or future benefit to the parties from CTSAT.
Moreover, some of Li Quan's evidence had been inaccurate, for example overestimating what the couple were spending during their marriage by a factor of 15. She had not helped her case by reportedly saying that if she could not lead the tiger rescue project she would rather it was destroyed, and by signing off her emails with 'wrath of a tiger mother whose cub is killed by evil' or 'wrath of the tigress whose baby has been taken away'.
'She has become blinded by her desire for revenge and this has led her to fabricate where she thinks it will assist her case', he concluded.
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Published on our website on Oct.31, 2014