High Court judge, Mrs Justice Proudman, today said she was “appalled” by the amount of money the family had spent squabbling over the inheritance of the late great writer, actor and raconteur.
Igor Cloutier von Ustinov, 56, Sir Peter’s son by his second wife, was today hit with a £114,000 legal costs bill after failing in a bid to uncover the whereabouts of the “rights and royalties for Sir Peter’s creative works” which Igor says have been lost to his children.
Igor, a sculptor, has been battling Lady Helene Ustinov, his late father’s third wife and widow, in the Swiss courts, since 2004, seeking to reverse a ruling that Sir Peter’s last will, which he signed in 1968, should be revoked.
The proceedings in the Swiss courts are still on-going, despite a settlement on some issues in 2007, but Mr von Ustinov launched a paralell case in London designed to track down the fruits of Sir Peter’s writings and film work.
Ian Meakin, for Mr von Ustinov, argued that “overarching” lifetime trusts set up by Sir Peter had put the valuable “intellectual property rights” in his work out of reach of his widow, and put a “sizeable” slice of his assets in the hands of his children alone.
The whereabouts of those rights and royalites – which were said to have been put into a “tax efficient” offshore structure by Sir Peter decades before his death – however remain a mystery.
The barrister argued that investigations by Igor lasting two years indicated that two retired Swiss lawyers are the trustees of the alleged trusts – something which they vigorously denied.
Mr Meakin asked the judge to transfer the part of the legal row concerning the alleged trusts to the jurisdiction of the English courts.
Mrs Justice Proudman said that Sir Peter, before his death, had set up “tax efficient structures under which he could receive royalties for his creative endeavours, namely writing and acting.”
She added: “There has been protracted litigation between Mr von Ustinov and Lady Helene about Sir Peter’s estate. The question of whether the lifetime trusts are part of Sir Peter’s estate remains live in the proceedings in Switzerland.”
But, rejecting Mr von Ustinov’s claim, she said: “The allegation is that a trust must have been set up, but there is no evidence of any actual trust.
“Mr von Ustinov can’t say who are its beneficiaries and what are its terms. His claim is the most fragile claim imaginable. Nor is there any evidence of any trust governed by English law.”
Transferring part of the proceedings to the UK from Switzerland would lead to “risks of inconsistent findings and irreconcilable judgements” she concluded.
“There is no need to revert to the English courts and, accordingly, I make a declaration that this court does not have jurisdiction to try Mr von Ustinov’s claim in this action.”
Mr von Ustinov was left with a £114,000 legal costs bill after the judge she was “appalled” by the money that had been spent by the family on lawyers.
Mr von Ustinov said outside court that he had spent almost his entire fortune on the terrible battle over his father’s legacy and, having lost today, was now approaching bankruptcy.
“It’s a horrible situation,” he said.
“I was very close to my father – when he died I was holding his hand and I felt like he had asked me to put some order into his affairs, but it has been very hard.
“Now I’m close to bankruptcy and I don’t know what to do. Nine years I’ve been fighting and I didn’t inherit a penny yet.”
Saying that the battle within the family is effectively over, he added: “This action was not really against my stepmother or my sisters, it was about the fact that my father saved up money and rights for years and now they are not available to the family.
“These trusts contained the rights and royalties to everything he wrote, his film rights and everything. It’s a very sad story because the family have no way of getting hands on them.”
Tamara Ustinov Rennie, Mr von Ustinov’s half-sister, who lives with her husband in Hove, East Sussex, said outside court: “Its been a long and wearing nine years and at least this is a step towards a final solution. It’s one of those funny situations which arise in families sometimes. I can’t begin to imagine what it has cost.”
Malcolm Rennie, Mrs Ustinov Rennie’s husband, earlier said outside court: “Peter was a wonderful man and I loved him very much as a son-in-law, but being successful at such a high level as he was, everybody wanted a piece of him.”
“He was an actor, writer, raconteur and UNICEF ambassador, crisscrossing the globe daily, and, because of that, he was not able to be the present father that he would have liked to have been to his children and he tried to compensate by trying to provide his children with material things“.
He added: “I would be surprised if there is anything left in the estate – it has probably all gone to the lawyers.”
(Source: Telegraph, 24 Jan 2013)
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