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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Flamboyant tycoon loses UK court battle over bank land deal

Judge says developer Robert Tchenguiz had been evasive and lied in case against UAE investment company Aabar

Robert Tchenguiz, left, Vincent Tchenguiz, his sister Lisa Tchenguiz and US businessman Steve Varsano at a party on January 23, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Robert Tchenguiz, left, Vincent Tchenguiz, his sister Lisa Tchenguiz and US businessman Steve Varsano at a party on January 23, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

A British property developer, as well known for his flamboyant lifestyle as his high-profile deal-making, has lost a €2 billion (Dh8.54bn) court battle with an Abu Dhabi investment firm over a failed attempt to buy the headquarters of Spanish banking giant Santander.

The decision, published on Friday, was the latest reversal for Robert Tchenguiz, 57, an Iranian-born entrepreneur whose property empire collapsed during the 2008-09 global financial crisis and has since been embroiled in a slew of legal cases.

Mr Tchenguiz had tried to stop Abu Dhabi investment firm Aabar from recovering some €113 million from a failed joint venture to buy a 400-acre site outside Madrid that was home to the global headquarters of Santander and worth more than €3bn.

A judge against Mr Tchenguiz’s Luxembourg-registered company Edgeworth, which had claimed €2bn after it alleged Aabar broke the terms of an oral deal in seeking its money back.

At the conclusion of a two-year battle, Mr Justice Popplewell said that Mr Tchenguiz had been “evasive” and had given evidence that could “only be categorised as lying”.

“I was driven to the conclusion that he was prepared to say whatever he thought would assist Edgeworth’s case, without any regard for its truth,” according to the ruling.

At the height of his fame, Mr Tchenguiz and his brother Vincent were reputed to be worth some £850 million in 2007, making them the 78th most wealthy people in Britain, according to the annual Sunday Times Rich List.

The brothers – whose jeweller father worked for the Shah of Iran and ran the country’s mint – used large amounts of debt from Kaupthing Bank to build up a significant empire in businesses such as upmarket retailer House of Fraser, grocer J Sainsbury and property in London’s richest districts.

Mr Tchenguiz enjoyed a lavish lifestyle that featured regularly in the diary pages of newspapers that included an extravagant Louis XIV-themed 40th birthday party at his multimillion-pound mansion in the upmarket London district of Kensington.

The party ended with the collapse of Kaupthing Bank in 2008, resulting in he and his brother reportedly no longer on speaking terms and could end with the loss of his home. The brothers were arrested in 2011 by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as part of the investigation into the bank’s collapse, but the brothers later won an apology and damages because of “serious mistakes” in the investigation.

Mr Tchenguiz has since lost another court case against a group of advisers he claimed acted negligently for failing to respond to the collapse of the Icelandic bank. He is also facing a costs’ claim of £140m over another legal dispute over the circumstances that led to the bungled SFO inquiry.

In an attempt to raise awareness about his various legal woes, Mr Tchenguiz invited the BBC into his home for a documentary that was shown in May. Instead, he said he felt betrayed after it featured details of his unconventional domestic arrangements, with his estranged wife and children living with him and his girlfriend in his large home.

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Read more:

Aabar Investments bids for Santander headquarters

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The case that concluded on Friday focused on a series of meetings with Khadem Al Qubaisi, the former chairman of Aabar, in the south of France in 2010 when they discussed co-operating on investment ventures, according to court papers.

Mr Tchenguiz claimed that the pair struck the first of three oral deals at a hotel in Paris when they agreed for Aabar to provide the finance while the entrepreneur would secure the deals. Aabar – then a subsidiary of the UAE’s International Petroleum Investment Corporation (Ipic) – claimed the meeting did not happen. The deal to buy the land ran into trouble and never went ahead.

Mr Al Qubaisi was later implicated in an alleged fraud linked to transactions with the scandal-hit Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and is now in prison in Abu Dhabi, according to UK court documents.

He was replaced as head of Aabar in 2015 and the following year Aabar sought to get back some €91m from Edgeworth that it spent on the failed deal.

Edgeworth responded by blocking the payment, prompting the court case that resulted in victory for Aabar, now part of the Mubadala Investment Company. Solicitors for Mr Tchenguiz declined to comment.