Billionaire Mordashov’s Ex-Wife Sues Russia for $500 Million
By Ilya Khrennikov
OAO Severstal billionaire Alexei Mordashov’s ex-wife is seeking $500 million at the European Court of Human Rights because a judge in the steelmaker’s hometown ordered her to pay $7.2 million for challenging their divorce agreement.
The court will rule on the case that Yelena Novitskaya filed “as soon as practically possible,” said Stefano Piedimonte, a spokesman for the Strasbourg, France-based court, by e-mail. The court agreed to hear the case in 2008 and the last documents were submitted in December, said Elena Krotova, the lead lawyer for Novitskaya at Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev & Partners.
Mordashov, 44, agreed to pay Novitskaya, 47, $6,000 a year and 300 euros ($435) a month in child support to end their 10- year marriage in 1996, the year he was elected Severstal’s general director, according to court documents provided by Krotova. Novitskaya got the couple’s apartment and car, while Mordashov kept their stocks and bonds.
Five years later, after Mordashov gained a controlling stake in Severstal and his annual income climbed 1,000-fold, Novitskaya petitioned a court in Cherepovets, the northwestern city where Russia’s largest steelmaker is based, for half of his stock and a quarter of his income, according to the complaint.
In 2003, the first year Mordashov appeared on the Forbes list of billionaires, a judge rejected Novitskaya’s claim and charged her a so-called stamp tax of 214 million rubles ($7.2 million), or 1.5 percent of the amount she was seeking. Russian officials capped the tax in 2005.
“She got almost nothing from the divorce and is now forced to pay an overwhelming court fee,” said Krotova said. “Our client just wants justice,” she said, adding that the Cherepovets court renewed demands for payment after Novitskaya filed her suit in Strasbourg.
Russia Most Sued
The judge who signed court orders on payment of the tax, dated Nov. 26 and Dec. 10, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Mordashov and Severstal, Olga Antonova. The Justice Ministry in Moscow said it’s cooperating with the court, declining to elaborate.
About 28 percent of the 97,300 pending in the European Court of Human Rights are against Russia, the most of any country, according to the court’s Web site. Russia, which joined the 51-year-old court in 1996, has accounted for about 7 percent of all judgments involving at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Novitskaya’s chances of winning a $500 million judgment are “virtually nil” said Ilya Rachkov, a partner in Moscow at Noerr LLP, a Munich-based law firm. “In similar cases, the European Court of Human Rights has rarely awarded more than several hundred thousand euros.”