By Sarah Townsend
Simon Halabi, who was declared bankrupt in 2010, is embroiled in another legal fight with his estranged wife
A bankrupted Syrian property investor who was once worth more than £3 billion ($4.4 billion) is locked in a bitter divorce battle over millions of dollars of assets, according to reports in UK media.
Simon Halabi is known in real estate circles for amassing a huge London property portfolio in the years leading up to the global financial crash.
Among his assets were a one-third stake in the Shard development at London Bridge, which he sold to the Qataris for £30 million in 2008, despite being valued at more than £130 million just six months earlier, it was reported at the time. He also built up a collection of nine high-profile London offices known as the White Tower portfolio.
It comprised properties such as Alban Gate and 60 Victoria Embankment, home to JP Morgan; Sampson House, occupied by IBM; Millennium Bridge House, occupied by Old Mutual; Leadenhall Court, the RSA's headquarters; New Court, which is home to the Inland Revenue, and the Aviva Tower, the insurer’s London headquarters.
The portfolio collapsed following the global financial crash. In 2009 it was reportedly valued at £929 million, way below the £1.15 billion of debt secured against the assets at the time, and the $1.83 billion they were valued at in 2006.
The drop caused a breach of loan-to-value covenants that prompted creditors to call in the debt, and Halabi – who was named Britain’s 14th richest man in the 2007 Sunday Times Rich List – was declared bankrupt in 2010 after failing to repay £56 million.
It has now emerged that the reclusive investor, whose last known address was a hotel room in Switzerland, is embroiled in a long-running divorce battle with his Lithuanian wife.
According to the Daily Mail, citing a report in the Sunday Times, Halabi was sued by his wife Urte after he became bankrupt and the dispute has been running behind closed doors in the UK High Court since 2013.
Citing documents obtained from the Land Registry, the newspaper reported that Urte Halabi has secured ‘restrictions’ on at least two properties in the family estate, which includes the £5 million family home in Mayfair, the Naval and Military Club in Piccadilly, and a £25 million stately home called Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire.
Urte asked for a ‘decree absolute’ in 2013, alleging that her husband had been unfaithful. This type of divorce is normally granted within six weeks but the couple reportedly remain married due to difficulties with insolvent family trusts.
Other court battles are ongoing over alleged debts, the newspaper reported, and the divorce proceedings only emerged last year following a hearing in Jersey that concerned control of the trusts.
Halabi used money inherited from his Syrian father to invest in British property and build up an empire worth a reported £3 billion.