Rupert Murdoch has filed for divorce from his wife Wendi Deng, who famously slapped a protester who threw a “custard pie” at the media mogul when MPs questioned him over phone-hacking.
Ms Deng is the tycoon’s third wife and the pair have two young children together. At the age of 82, News Corporation chairman and CEO Mr Murdoch is 38 years older than Ms Deng.
The couple were married for 14 years after meeting at a party in Hong Kong in 1997.
They wed less than a month after Mr Murdoch’s divorce from his second wife Anna Maria Torv, which ended in one of the most expensive splits in history, costing the tycoon about £1 billion. His first marriage was to Patricia Booker in 1956, which ended in divorce in 1967.
Sources last night claimed Mr Murdoch and Ms Deng had signed a prenuptial agreement and it is not yet known how much money his Chinese-born wife will receive as a result of the break-up.
Mr Murdoch filed a one-page document yesterday indicating he was opening a divorce case in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
New York Times media reporter Amy Chozik last night reported that the reasons for the divorce were the “relationship between husband and wife has broken down irretrievably”.
Commentators said the split is not likely to lessen the magnate’s grip on his media empire.
The divorce comes just two days before News Corporation is to be split into two companies, one for its entertainment assets and the other for its publishing business. Mr Murdoch is to be chairman of both companies.
Australian-born Mr Murdoch is said by Forbes Magazine to be worth an estimated £6 billion.
His global media portfolio includes the Wall Street Journal, television channels such as Fox News and Sky and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.
Brett Harriss, analyst at leading financial services company Gabelli and Company, said: “Given that it’s his third wife, I see it unlikely that he didn’t plan for this contingency.”
Two years ago, the UK newspaper division of News Corporation became embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal, with a number of leading figures at the organisation accused of tapping the phones of celebrities, a number of whom were awarded settlements.
The scandal led to the closure of the News of the World newspaper and some staff, including former News International executive Rebekah Brooks, are now facing criminal charges over the allegations.
Mr Murdoch controls 40 per cent of the voting shares of News Corporation through a separate family trust and his two youngest daughters have shares currently worth about £170 million, it was reported last night.
He has four other children from his two previous marriages, including three who have active roles within the company: James, Lachlan and Elisabeth.
A News Corporation spokesman said last night it was “unlikely” the company would release a statement on the divorce.
Mr Murdoch and Ms Deng married in June 1999 on board the media magnate’s yacht, Morning Glory, amid tight security. Only 82 people attended the New York service at which Welsh singer Charlotte Church performed. The couple have two children together – Grace, who was born in 2001, and Chloe, who was born in 2003.
In July 2011, his third wife gained global attention when television images showed her jumping from her seat at a parliamentary hearing to slap a prankster who tried to push a shaving-foam covered pie into Mr Murdoch’s face.
Ms Deng, reportedly the daughter of a factory director, grew up in the eastern Chinese city of Xuzhou before leaving for the US at 19 to study.
She worked in a Chinese restaurant in California before going on to graduate from Yale University in 1996.
She was later employed as an intern by Star TV, News Corporation’s Asian satellite-television operation in Hong Kong, where she met Mr Murdoch during one of his visits.