Q: Elena's attorneys say the trusts were created to prevent her from receiving her share of wealth. How would you describe their purpose?
Bersheda: That argument was clearly shown to be baseless, contradictory with the facts and deeply flawed.
The trusts were established in 2005, long before Mr. Rybolovlev's now ex-wife initiated divorce proceedings in late 2008. Mr. Rybolovlev had no inkling that she would ever wish to do that. When, years later, he learned from third parties during the Christmas holidays of 2008 that his ex-wife had filed for divorce two days before Christmas to take him by surprise and freeze all the assets, he still tried to prevent the divorce in order to keep his family together.
So, on the contrary, rather than setting up the trusts with a divorce in mind, Mr. Rybolovlev established them to benefit his family and secure its future. The purpose was asset protection and succession planning. During that period around 2005, many leading Russian businessmen were creating foreign trusts to protect their assets from potential risks of corporate raiding in Russia—it was a common practice amongst the top cadre of entrepreneurs to which Mr. Rybolovlev belonged.
As far as succession planning was concerned, Mr. Rybolovlev believed that his assets had become so significant that it would have been indecent for them to be enjoyed by one generation. Therefore, it was critical to create a structure of which the beneficiaries would be not only the couple's two children, but also their future heirs.
By complete contrast, Mrs. Rybolovleva felt that she was entitled to multibillion corporate and other assets, even at the expense of her own children and future grandchildren.
Perhaps the saddest thing for the family is that this entire process could have been over long, long ago had she accepted the repeated settlement offers, which were generous and exceeded the amount awarded by the Cour of Justice de Geneva. Somehow she felt that only a multibillion settlement of her divorce would correspond to what she deserved or needed.
So, the award made by the court has now shown how fair and generous the settlement offers were: In applying Swiss law to the dispute the judges have now awarded Mrs. Rybolovleva a lesser amount than what Mr. Rybolovlev repeatedly offered her, offers he made for the sake of peace in the family and for the well being of the couple's children.
Q: This may be among the biggest (if not the biggest) reduction in a divorce award in history. How does it feel to have won such a legal and financial victory?
Bersheda: After seven long years of sometimes bitter legal dispute, it is a satisfying result for the entire team of lawyers who have worked together on the case in more than 10 jurisdictions where Mrs. Rybolovleva was attacking her ex-husband and the family trusts.
Above all, we are happy for Mr. Rybolovlev and his family. This has been a grueling and testing process for him and his children and he has conducted himself with great dignity throughout. On a personal note, my hope is that the judgment will now allow them to turn the page on this chapter and move forward with their lives.
From a legal standpoint, our team and I are happy that we finally have a victory for the application of law and the law is now being correctly applied in this case. The first judgment handed down in May 2014 was clearly erroneous—it did not consistently apply Swiss matrimonial law and ignored the provisions of The Hague Trust Convention in force in Switzerland.
The significantly reduced settlement was the result of those earlier errors being corrected and constitutes a victory of the law.
Q: Do you think the trust paid reasonable market prices for the assets it purchased? The $88 million price for the condo at 15 Central Park West, the Trump house in Palm Beach, etc.?
Bersheda: We are confident that the trust sought the appropriate professional advice before making any investment decisions and that it has made good investments, acquired at competitive valuations.