Dubai’s judicial authorities have ruled that a controversial case involving the $460 million super-yacht Luna must be decided in a UAE Shariah court and not in the Dubai International Financial Center’s common-law courts system.
Ownership of the yacht — once the property of billionaire Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich — is a key part in bitter divorce proceedings between wealthy Azerbaijan-born businessman Farkhad Akhmedov and his former wife Tatiana Akhmedova.
The super-yacht was impounded by DIFC courts while docked in the UAE for maintenance after a London court handed it to Akhmedova as part of a £453 million ($600 million) divorce settlement in 2016.
But in a ruling earlier this month, seen by Arab News, the Dubai Judicial Tribunal has sent the matter to the Dubai courts for a decision. The tribunal was set up to decide on matters of disputed jurisdiction between the “offshore” DIFC court and the “onshore” courts.
The decision will add further controversy to a case that has already made headlines around the world. The Shariah legal system is generally held to treat the husband more favorably in divorce cases than Western courts.
In addition, the ruling could be interpreted as a further blow to the credibility of the DIFC’s independent legal system, based on common law and conducted in English, which is an important part of Dubai’s positioning as a global financial center.
Akhmedov’s lawyers argued that his ex-wife had sought to use the DIFC courts as a “conduit jurisdiction to enforce the English family court judgment to avoid the stringent tests for recognition and enforcement (under UAE law), which violates public policy and public order in the UAE and Islamic shariah,” according to the ruling.
They added that “the jurisdiction of the DIFC courts is restricted to civil and commercial matters. They are not competent in family and marital matters.”
The Judicial Tribunal, under chairman Ali Ibrahim Al-Imam, accepted that argument and said that the Dubai courts were the “competent courts to entertain the dispute, including the attachment of the yacht.”
The court could lift the current impounding order. Akhmedov has claimed the Luna is not owned by him, but by a Liechtenstein corporation, Straight Establishment, for the benefit of his children.
The 115-meter Luna, launched in 2009, has two helipads, a 20-meter swimming pool, a mini-submarine and 10 luxury guest cabins.
It has been in Dubai dry docks since October last year. There have been concerns about its condition deteriorating in an Arabian Gulf summer, and permission has been sought from the court to move it from its current position to nearby Port Rashid.
One lawyer involved in the case, who asked not to be identified, said: “Our guidance is that it could take between six and 12 months to get a decision from Dubai courts, and that will not be good for the condition of the vessel.
“A lot depends on whether the court will seek a full review of the terms of the original settlement made by the English court. The man tends to do better in Shariah courts,” he said.