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Russian Businessman Domiciled in England Can Be Sued in England

If you are domiciled in England, you can be sued in England. Behind that deceptively simple statement, however, lies a vista of legal complexity, as was illustrated by a bitter High Court battle between two prominent Russian businessmen.

The case concerned a dispute in respect of the ownership of an international fishing business with a value of around $1.5 billion. The claimant asserted that he had co-founded the business and was entitled to a one-third share in it under a joint venture agreement. He claimed that the defendant and another had engaged in a complex and sophisticated conspiracy to misappropriate his interest in the business, or to deny its existence, and valued his claim at about $350 million. The defendant denied any wrongdoing and characterised the proceedings as an attempt at extortion.

The claimant applied at a preliminary hearing to continue a worldwide asset freezing order that he had obtained against the defendant. The latter, however, argued that the English courts had no jurisdiction to try the matter on the basis that he was domiciled in Russia. In submitting that the case should be heard in Russia, he pointed out that the subject matter of the dispute was almost entirely Russian, involving Russian nationals and a Russian business governed by Russian law.

In dismissing those arguments and accepting jurisdiction, however, the Court noted that, although his heart may be in Russia and he spends most of his time there, the defendant owns a substantial home in London where he stays frequently. His four children all live in England and his settled residence in this country had a degree of permanence and continuity about it. The claimant had established a good arguable case that the defendant was both resident and domiciled in England.