Russia’s wealthiest individual, Vladimir Potanin, is facing the risk of losing a substantial portion of his $29.9 billion fortune. Surprisingly, this threat doesn’t stem from UK, US, or EU sanctions but rather from his ex-wife. The sanctions suddenly don’t seem as daunting, as the Russian businessman subject to sanctions is now entangled in a legal battle with his former spouse in the UK’s Supreme Court, potentially resulting in the most high-value divorce case in English legal history.
Natalia Potanina, his wife of 31 years, has filed a multi-billion-pound claim against him in London. Vladimir Potanin is seeking to overturn a Court of Appeal decision that halted Mrs. Potanina’s $9 billion claim. London is renowned as the world’s divorce capital, with judges often favoring an equal division of assets between spouses.
While Potanin’s legal team has made efforts to halt Mrs. Potanina’s claim during a hearing in the capital, her legal team contends that she has ‘earned her share’ of the family’s wealth over their years of marriage. The ex-wife is seeking half of the value of his shares in the mining firm Norilsk Nickel, half of the dividends on those shares since 2014, and half of the value of a Russian property known as The Autumn House.
In 2019, Mr. Potanin successfully thwarted his ex-wife’s attempt to bring a case against him in England. However, the tables turned in 2021 when the Court of Appeal cleared the way for Mrs. Potanina to proceed with her case. By June 2022, the Russian billionaire had been hit with sanctions, which, while problematic, paled in comparison to what his wife stood to gain from her claims against him. In response, the 62-year-old tycoon acted swiftly and relocated his $300 million luxury yacht, Nirvana, to a secure superyacht haven in Dubai. Despite being identified as blocked property by UK officials, the stunning six-deck Oceanco boat, complete with a 3D cinema, spa, and casino-style game room, remains moored in Dubai.
Although Potanin may have breathed a sigh of relief initially, the generous reputation of English courts suggests that he stands to lose his Nirvana Yacht in one of the world’s largest divorce settlements. Until recently, this record was held by the wife of billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov, Tatiana Akhmedova, who secured the largest publicly known court award in a divorce, amounting to $640 million.
Their superyacht, Luna, valued at $320 million, was also embroiled in the legal battle. In comparison, Potanina had previously received a “paltry award” in Russian divorce proceedings, around $40 million, although Potanin claims she ended up with $84 million. The proposed $9 billion claim not only surpasses Akhmedov’s settlement by a significant margin but also poses a substantial financial threat to the billionaire.
Moscow-born Vladimir Potanin is renowned as the mastermind behind Russia’s “loans-for-shares” program. He altered the trajectory of his life at the age of 30 when he partnered with future billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. In 1992, they co-founded the International Company for Finance & Investments and established Onexim Bank, which at the time became Russia’s largest private bank, according to Bloomberg. In 1995, Potanin and Prokhorov acquired a controlling stake in Norilsk Nickel. In addition to his immense wealth, which includes the $300 million megayacht Nirvana, Potanin also owned a 248-foot motoryacht named Anastasia, after his daughter, which was sold for $72 million in 2018.