An Austrian businessman has lost a High Court fight with the woman he lived with for 20 years over the ownership of a company – and been criticised by a judge.
Mr Justice Cobb said Peter Andreewitch, 57, used his intellect to ‘control’ French former partner Magali Moutreuil and consigned her to a ‘subservient role’.
He said Mr Andreewitch had been ‘patronising and dismissive’ towards 44-year-old Ms Moutreuil.
The pair were involved in a dispute over the ownership of a company Mr Andreewitch set up, and the home they shared in London.
Mr Andreewitch and Ms Moutreuil both claimed total ownership of the Grade-II listed Chelsea home – a few doors from the cottage where Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh once lived – in which they raised their children.
Mr Justice Cobb, who considered evidence at a virtual hearing in the Family Division of the High Court, has ruled in favour of Ms Moutreuil.
Austrian businessman Mr Andreewitch (left) 57, used his intellect to ‘control’ French former partner Magali Moutreuil, 44, (right) and consigned her to a ‘subservient role’, the judge said, ruling in favour of Moutreuil in a dispute over the ownership of a company and home
He heard that Mr Andreewitch, who ran a property and development business, set up the Pier Investment Company nearly 30 years ago
The company had owned their home in Chelsea, estimated to be worth more than £2 million.
Mr Andreewitch had transferred all shares in the company to Ms Moutreuil 20 years ago.
Ms Moutreuil said Mr Andreewitch had been determined to ‘divest himself’ of any interest in the shares, so as to ‘avoid the claims of creditors and potential creditors’.
She says he wanted her, rather than a business partner, to be the owner of their home.
Mr Andreewitch disagreed and argued that he ‘at all times’ had been the ‘beneficial owner’ of the company shares.
The judge concluded that the shares in Pier were ‘owned legally and beneficially’ by Ms Moutreuil.
Mr Justice Cobb said, in a written ruling on the dispute, that Mr Andreewitch was ‘intelligent.’
The judge said he was sure Mr Andreewitch had many qualities, but he added: ‘For much of the relationship he has used this intellect but also his rigid and insensitive personality to control (Ms Moutreuil).
‘I find that his attitude towards (her) both historically and in the course of his evidence was both patronising, and dismissive.’
He went on: ‘The evidence reveals him to have been unreasonable and hostile in his relationship with her, little recognising her qualities, and consigning her to a subservient role within the household.’
The battle escalated earlier this year when Ms Moutreuil won a court order that could have seen her former partner committed to prison for contempt of court over financial breaches relating to the house row.
But Mr Andreewitch successfully challenged the order in the Court of Appeal, where top judges found that he had not received a fair trial when he faced off against Ms Moutreuil in the divorce courts.
The Court of Appeal in London heard that the seed of the row over who gets the multi-million pound mortgage-free former family home, were planted in July 2000 when the couple had been together just two years.
The house had been owned since 1993 by Mr Andreewitch through the company.
After their relationship broke down in 2017, but whilst they were still living together in the home with their kids, Mr Andreewitch ‘began to insist to Ms Moutreuil that she had no rights or interests in the property.’
However Ms Moutreuil refused to back down to pressure from her wealthy former partner, who the court heard has a number of ‘UK properties’ as well as having previously invested in real estate in eastern Germany.
Ms Moutreuil was company secretary for Pier Investment Company LTD between 2000 and 2015.
During their family court battle earlier this year, Mrs Justice Lieven said Ms Moutreuil’s case was that while feeling a ‘moral obligation’ to her former partner, ‘she has outright ownership of the shares and property.’
‘Mr Andreewitch’s position is that she has no interest whatsoever in the property and shares,’ the judge added.
The judge went on to find that Mr Andreewitch had breached a freezing order imposed in March 2019 banning either of the warring couple from withdrawing money from the bank account of the company through which the house is owned, except for legitimate company reasons.
The couple both claim they should have sole ownership of their home, estimated to be worth more than £2 million, in Chelsea (pictured). The house was owned by the company Mr Andreewitch had set up when he transferred all shares to his wife
Ms Moutreuil said that her former partner had flouted that order and ‘effectively used the bank account as his personal piggy bank, making regular payments out of it,’ both before and after the freezing order was made.
But Mr Andreewitch insisted that all payments out of the company account were legitimate, being either his salary, repayments of loans he had made to the business, or money to cover the company’s legal expenses.
Mr Justice Lieven dubbed Mr Andreewitch ‘an unreliable witness’ and concluded: ‘I have found that he did breach the order and did so in deliberate and full knowledge that he was in breach of it.’
But the Court of Appeal overturned that finding because the divorce judge had failed to inform Mr Andreewitch that he had the right to remain silent at the committal application brought by his former partner.
The property investor, who was representing himself without the help of a barrister, underwent a lengthy cross examination about payments made from the account before the judge found he had breached the freezing order.
It had been ‘a serious procedural irregularity’ for Mr Andreewitch not to have been told by the judge that he was not obliged to answer any of the questions he faced, given that he was potentially facing jail, said appeal judge Lord Justice Peter Jackson.
‘The right to silence is a core element in criminal proceedings and proceedings of a criminal character….This is particularly important when considering procedural matters where a person’s liberty is at stake,’ he added, allowing Mr Andreewitch’s appeal in a judgment given last month.