A Russian oligarch whose will is at the centre of a bitter fight between his British-based second family and his children from a former marriage ‘was a great admirer of the Queen’ a court has been told.
Multi-millionaire Vladimir Scherbakov was found hanged in Belgium in 2017, aged 56, after he fled the UK a year earlier to avoid extradition while being investigated by the Kremlin on charges of fraud.
He left behind a huge trail of assets scattered across the globe – including the rights to a £12million mansion in Surrey where he lived with his second-family Brigita Morina, 42, and their children.
The oligarch, who loved the UK so much he started ‘watching rugby and drinking beer’, made the final will while living in England in 2015. In it he had left almost all of his assets, including the English mansion, to his then fiancée Ms Morina, before they split up.
The will has since disappeared with his adult children, Olga Scherbakova, 34, and Alexander Scherbakov, 25, arguing their father must have ‘torn up’ the will when he fled to Belgium, claiming he wanted to share his mass fortune with them.
Brigita Morina, girlfriend of Vladimir Scherbakov at the time of his death, pictured outside the High Court previously, was described as Russian oligarch’s ‘mistress’
Vladimir Alekseyevich Scherbakov was found dead, aged 56, in Belgium in 2017 as he was being investigated by the Kremlin on charges of fraud. A court heard that he was ‘a great admirer of the Queen’
Throughout the court case, the siblings have argued that their father never followed through with his promise to marry Ms Morina and was living hundreds of miles away from her at the time of his death.
Summing up Ms Morina’s case following a lengthy trial at the High Court, her lawyers claimed the children are trying to prolong the dispute in order to chase their father’s fortune abroad.
Her lawyers argued he had only disappeared to Belgium – which he allegedly called a ‘prison’ – because he wanted to avoid extradition to Russia during a criminal investigation.
Hodge Malek KC said he had always intended to return to his family in Surrey.
‘Vladimir Scherbakov loved his children (with Ms Morina) and desperately wanted to be with them. The ties with them were strong. He was waiting for the day he could return to them,’ he told Mrs Justice Bacon.
‘He was integrated in British life. He was a member of several prestigious clubs. He was a great admirer of our late Queen, which is very British.’
Mr Scherbakov had also made great ‘attempts to integrate in English society by watching rugby, drinking beer, taking golf lessons, and following the British Royal Family,’ he continued.
London’s High Court heard Mr Scherbakov had Olga and Alexander with his wife Elena Scherbakova, but the pair split and he went on to form a relationship with Ms Morina – former creative director of luxury Swiss watchmakers DeLaneau – in 2010.
Scherbakov’s adult children from his marriage, Alexander and Olga, both pictured outside the High Court in London, are staking their claim to their father’s fortune
He spent his time with her in England, partly at £12m Granville House, his mansion in Weybridge, Surrey, as well as owning Ringo Starr’s former home ‘Summer Haze,’ a multimillion-pound townhouse in Pont Street, Belgravia, and a £400,000 wine collection.
He was a member of prestigious London clubs, including the Arts Club, in Dover Street, and Mayfair’s 5 Hertford Street club, proposing to Ms Morina at a Knightsbridge restaurant in 2015.
But Vladimir fled to Belgium in 2016 to avoid extradition, after a criminal complaint was filed against him.
The complaint had been made by Andrey Lugovoy, a former Russian Security Services agent and deputy in the Russian Duma, who was found by the European Court of Human Rights to have murdered Alexander Litvinenko, Mr Malek said.
Once in Belgium, Mr Scherbakov was plagued with anxiety, the court heard, refusing ‘to eat fruit given by others out of fear that it may have been poisoned’.
The oligarch was terrified that his conversations were being bugged, leading to him only using encrypted forms of communication.
The criminal investigation was eventually dropped but by that time Vladimir had died, having been found hanged in Belgium in 2017, aged 56.
Scherbakov had been living with girlfriend Brigita Morina (pictured left) at £12million Granville House in Surrey
Following his death, his two families ended up pitted against each other in courts in various parts of the world, including a fight which resulted in a Belgian judge handing the right to dispose of their father’s body to his adult children.
In another struggle involving his offshore business interests in the British Virgin Isles, his companies were said by a judge to have ‘at least a nine-figure dollar value.’
Ms Morina and the adult children are now fighting over his final will, which left her and her family almost all his non-Russian assets, said to be worth ‘in excess of £100 million.’
With the original English will unaccounted for, the siblings insist that their dad must have destroyed it, because he no longer wanted Ms Morina to get ‘almost everything’ he had outside of Russia.
But throughout the highly charged two-week trial at the London court has heard Ms Morina claim that the will could not have been destroyed, because it was examined by an expert in the course of an alleged ‘extortion’ attempt against Ms Morina.
Their barrister said an offer had been made to hand over the document in exchange for 35 million euros and the document forensically analysed during a meeting in Paris.
Although they firmly deny involvement and say the extortion claim was a ‘set up,’ Mr Malek says the ‘irresistible inference’ from the evidence is that the siblings were involved in the ‘suppression’ of the will.
He said Vladimir never changed his mind about handing almost all of his non-Russian assets to his British-based family.
‘A will is what you are saying you want to happen when you die. We say you should follow the will,’ he said in his closing remarks.
‘The adult children want this not to be the end, but just the beginning. They want to challenge the will and keep the dispute going in Belgium.’
The£12million Granville House in Surrey is among the assets contested in his £100m will
He told the judge: ‘It is said Ms Morina abandoned Vladimir in his most difficult moment when the Russian criminal investigation was going on. That is not only very hurtful, but not true.
‘It shows the adult children are willing to make up anything in order to support their case.
‘Vladimir wanted to do what he thought was right for both his families. He generously provided for Elena and their children and did the same for Brigita Morina and their two children.
‘He was very concerned about the safety of Bridget Morina and their children. Vladimir was frightened wanted to protect Ms Morina.’
He said Vladimir had a ‘clear intention to move back to England once the Russian criminal investigation had been formally terminated, in order to rejoin Brigita and their children in the place where they had their homes…where they had a settled life.
‘He wanted to get out of Belgium as fast as he could. He clearly saw it as a prison. He just wanted to get back to the life he had made in England.’
Outlining the siblings’ case earlier in the trial, Ms Scherbakova denied the suggestion that she had been involved in the ‘suppression’ of her father’s English will or any alleged extortion attempt.
She said she did not believe her dad would leave a will which benefited his ‘mistress’ at the home of her mum.
And she denied the suggestion that her father’s place of permanent residence when he died was England and so his estate is not governed by English law.
‘His sole motivation for jumping between countries was based on a tax avoidance scheme,’ she told the judge.
‘We have lost our father in tragic and morbid circumstances. We are standing and fighting for the only rights we have left.
‘We are tired of the whole matter. This is a legal nightmare.’
The siblings are fighting Ms Morina’s application for a grant of probate of the 2015 will and want a declaration that their dad was domiciled in Belgium at death and died intestate.
The two-week trial is now drawing to an end. The judge will reserve her decision to be given at a later date.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk