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Billionaire fails to keep divorce case private

Chris Hohn  of The Children's Investment Fund.
Peter Macdiarmid | Getty Images
Chris Hohn of The Children's Investment Fund.

A hedge fund billionaire has failed to prevent the media from reporting details of his $1.3 billion divorce case, which is thought to be the largest to come before the English courts.

Sir Chris Hohn runs The Children's Investment Fund, a hedge fund that returns most of its profits to a charity, and claims to enjoy a "Swatch" lifestyle rather than a jet set one.

"My life is actually is about charity," he told the court on Monday. "I learnt very early on you cannot take money with you. It does not bring you happiness."

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The ruling is significant as it extends the limits of what the media can report of hearings relating to the division of finances in big money divorces, which are becoming increasingly common among the super rich who choose to fight their divorce battles in London.

Sir Chris, the son of a Jamaican car mechanic, who grew up in Surrey, is embroiled in a bitter divorce battle with his wife Jamie Cooper-Hohn, 49, who is seeking hundreds of millions of pounds. The couple met as students at Harvard University, were married for 17 years and have four children.

Sir Chris, 47, had sought a reporting ban on a hearing to determine division of their assets partly because confidentiality agreements had been disclosed in the belief the proceedings would remain private and not be reported by the media.

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Ms Cooper-Hohn is seeking half of the assets but her husband claims her share should be 25 per cent.

After hearing an application by the media, Mrs Justice Roberts ruled that such a blanket ban on reporting would be "too wide" and she permitted details to be reported provided they did not include financial information – either personal or business – unless they were already in the public domain.

She noted in her ruling that the assets available for distribution in the case amounted to $1.3 billion, including pension assets of $85 million and properties worth $36 million.

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London is known as the divorce capital of the world because of its generosity in awarding spouses half the assets built up during a marriage.

Until now, the largest divorce award has been to Galina Besharova, the wife of the late Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who received a reputed £100 million to £200 million. Other divorce payouts have been less – Heather Mills received £24.3 million after four years of marriage to former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.

The legal arguments heard by Mrs Justice Roberts had centred on whether the media were prevented from reporting the financial remedies proceedings by legislative provisions that restrict such reporting.

Mrs Justice Roberts noted in her ruling that it was a complex area of law.

Mr Hohn began giving evidence on Monday. His estranged wife has already given evidence.

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The billionaire told the court that his interest in charity came when he was 20 years old and working in the Philippines where he saw impoverished children living on a garbage dump.

"I considered being a doctor and working in a caring profession," Mr Hohn told the court, but he added "a dream or aspiration without resources is just that".

He likened his ambition to be a philanthropist to someone who, when they grew up, wanted to "play for Chelsea or be a top QC". He said that most people if they became wealthy had some sort of "philanthropic leaning".

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He also told the court that he lived a "simple lifestyle" and lived "from day to day".

He did not generally work weekends and usually sent only about two texts a week, Mr Hohn told the court.

The latest case came after the Court of Appeal hearing had previously been told that the valuation of The Children's Investment Fund, which was founded by Sir Chris, is at the centre of the escalating divorce proceedings between him and his wife.

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Ms Cooper-Hohn, who runs CIFF, the $4 billion charity affiliated to TCI, had claimed that Sir Chris had materially underestimated the value of TCI.

She maintained that the true value of TCI, which has assets under management of $6 billion, was between $513 million and $872 million, while Sir Chris argued that it was $103 million, the Court of Appeal heard.

The hearing before Mrs Justice Roberts, which is due to last all week, continues.

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