Judgment creditors can celebrate in England — UK Supreme Court.

English courts are not very keen on judgment debtors who spirit assets away out of sight of our enforcement officers. The Supreme Court today showed they meant business when faced with this scenario. They confirmed in JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov [2018] UKSC 19 that anyone who in England does anything to help a debtor do this can find himself at the receiving end of a civil claim from the judgment creditor.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a colourful Kazakh politician, dissident and businessman who used to run the biggest bank in Kazakhstan, was successfully sued here by the bank for the moderate sum of US$4.6 billion. The court issued the usual congeries of worldwide freezing orders in aid of enforcement, which were disobeyed. In 2012 Mr Ablyazov, facing the prospect of time inside for contempt, fled England and continued with a large degree of success to move his assets around to make them inaccessible.

The Ablyazov cupboard being bare, the bank then turned to an associate, one Ilyas Khrapunov, who had allegedly agreed in England to help Mr Ablyazov to cause his assets to vanish and later done just that. It sued Mr Khrapunov in tort, alleging that the above acts amounted to an unlawful means conspiracy. Mr Khrapunov applied to strike, arguing that if (as is clear) contempt of court cannot give rise to damages, the bank shouldn’t be allowed to plead conspiracy to get a similar remedy by the back door. He also argued that in any case he was safely tucked up in Switzerland; that the assets were outside England; and that the mere fact that he had conspired in England to make those assets disappear did not take away his right under the Lugano Convention to be sued in his country of domicile.

Mr Khrapunov lost all the way in the Supreme Court. There was no reason why the fact that he had acted in contempt of court should not count as unlawful means for the purposes of conspiracy. Furthermore, the jurisprudence under the Brussels I / Lugano system made it clear that for the purpose of non-contractual liability, where jurisdiction laywas “either in the courts for the place where the damage occurred or in the courts for the place of the event which gives rise to and is at the origin of that damage”, an agreement amounted to an ” event which gives rise to and is at the origin of that damage.”

Good news, in other words, for judgment creditors: bad news for friends of fugitive tycoons.

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