In refusing an application to set-aside permission for Russian businessman Alexey Golubovich to serve English proceedings on his ex-wife, Olga Mirimskaya, the door has been opened for a fascinating trial in the High Court.
The dispute centres around a claim brought by the couple's daughter, Nataliya, to have her father hand over a number of pieces from a highly valuable art and antiques collection (some 345 pieces, worth millions of pounds although various estimates are provided by the parties and the press). She has part of it in her possession and argues that the rest is due to her under a deed of gift executed by her mother in 2019. Alexey disputes this. He submits that the collection is owned by him following a deed transferring it to him that was executed in 2013, and counterclaims for the transfer of the parts of the collection that are not currently in his possession.
The plot thickened when Olga applied to the Russian Courts to rule that Alexey's deed was a forgery. Both a district court and an appeal court in Moscow held that Olga (not Alexey) did not sign the document. Separately, English courts specifically refused Alexey's application to halt these Russian proceedings with an anti-suit injunction.
However, the fact that Alexey's injunction was not granted, and the Russian ruling, did not put an end to the matter. English courts still had to decide whether or not they were able to rule on the ownership of the collection, and whether or not Olga could be served and brought into these proceedings. After all, both Alexey and Olga are resident in Moscow, along with part of the collection, and questions of Russian law feature in arguments on both sides.
At first glance it might seem odd that a claim like this should be heard by courts in England. However, Deputy Master Marsh held at the end of last month, that Olga's involvement in the various deeds and assets makes her a necessary party to the claims. Each of the claims and counterclaims relating to her involvement are serious issues to be tried. He further held that England was the appropriate forum for the dispute given that: the majority of the collection is still in England and was acquired for an English property, the deed between Natalya and Olga was concluded under English law, and there were English proprietary and tortious laws to consider in relation to the parties' various claims and defences.
The matter will now (unless it is settled) go to trial and the High Court will attempt to unpick the ownership of the collection, considering English and Russian legal submissions in the process.
Whilst this ruling is only a small step in the overall proceedings; it illustrates the English courts' willingness to provide a forum for disputes involving multiple territories and foreign laws. This should provide comfort to parties seeking to avoid litigation on multiple fronts - which is a constant risk in a truly international arts and antiquities trade.
The claim concerns a substantial and valuable art and antiques collection focussed on Buddhist Art and Chinese Antiques which was acquired during the course of the marriage between Alexey and Olga and held at 28 Upper Mall when it was the family home in London. There is now a dispute about who owns the collection. Nataliya has brought this claim against her father seeking an order for delivery up of a significant proportion of the art and antiques. Alexey has defended the claim, counterclaimed against Nataliya and issued an additional claim against Olga.