Vardags — Leading solicitors for high net worth individuals

Property billionaire claims fake marriage to protect fortune

By Kate Williams -

An investment CEO has crafted a way to protect his billion pound fortune in the event of divorce: claim he was never married.

The case came into the public eye on Wednesday after the first public hearing in the case took place in the Family Division of the High Court in London. Up until Wednesday, the case had been heard in private but English law requires that any disputes over the validity of a marriage must be held in public. The case is being heard by Mr Justice Moor.

Asif Aziz, who is CEO and founder of Criterion Capital (a property investment group which boats 1 Jermyn Street and 1 Piccadilly amongst its portfolio of properties) and his wife, Taglide Aziz, divorced last November but Mr Aziz is now hoping to reverse the divorce. In an attempt to protect his estimated £1.1 billion fortune, Mr Aziz is seeking to prove that the couple were never legally married under English law. Deborah Bangay QC, for Mrs Aziz said Mr Aziz "presented to the world for a period of two decades that he and Mrs Aziz were married". The couple had formally celebrated their relationship on two separate occasions: at a religious ceremony held in Wimbledon in 1997, and then again in Malawi at Mr Aziz’s uncle’s home in 2002. Together they have four children and have appeared to be ‘married’ for fourteen years.

Richard Harrison QC, for Mr Aziz, told Mr Justice Moor that Mrs Aziz is claiming that the ceremony in Malawi was a legitimate Muslim marriage ceremony. The billionaire property developer maintains that no formal ceremony took place and the "certificate of convenience" the couple obtained was fake and only used to get a UK passport for their adopted child. The judge was told that "the parties went on holiday to Malawi in September 2002. They were at that time planning to relocate to England. They needed a passport. Arrangements were made."

Mrs Aziz is pursuing a "fair share" of the pot whilst Mr Aziz is seemingly determined to protect his amassed wealth. Under English law, a spouse is still entitled to financial relief where a marriage proves to be void because of a deficiency in the way it was created. Where a marriage is conducted abroad, the court will presume it was valid provided that local rubrics were followed. Where a couple have failed even to do this, and there was no clear intent that they intended a marriage to be binding, the court may hold it to be a “non-marriage”, meaning that there is no legal obligations between the parties at all.

The hearing continues.

If you would like to know more about the issues covered in this article, Vardags offers a free consultation to qualifying individuals.

For high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals or their companies, our confidential enquiry line is staffed 24 hours. Call 020 7404 9390 today.

Kate Williams

Kate joined the Graduate Trainee Programme at Vardags as a graduate trainee in September 2017. She is now undertaking the LPC at BPP.