Absence makes the ex-partner £1m richer

A FABULOUSLY wealthy African businessman has been ordered to pay more than £1 million to his former partner after he failed to turn up for a court hearing.

In the latest chapter of what has been dubbed Scotland's most expensive divorce settlement, Chief Oladeinde Fernandez's decision not to attend the hearing at the Court of Session cost him dearly when the judge made the award to Aduke Fernandez.

The chief, 69, is unlikely to suffer any great financial hardship because of the award to Ms Fernandez, 55. The court was told that it represented only "a tiny fraction" of his wealth.

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The couple had been involved previously in a bitter 300 million divorce action which ended in a deal that Mr Fernandez would pay Ms Fernandez 30,000 a month for three years. He later claimed that she had broken a secrecy clause in the agreement and that it was no longer binding. She went back to court to have it enforced, and has now been granted a decree against the chief in his absence.

Lord Macphail said at the Court of Session in Edinburgh that there had already been lamentable delays in the case, which was only partly heard when Mr Fernandez sacked his lawyers without explanation.

He added: "It appeared to me that in view of the history of his conduct of the litigation, it was impossible to be satisfied that he had any intention of proceeding with the proof [civil trial]."

Mr Fernandez was for several years the Central African Republic's ambassador to the United Nations. He is a tribal chief and his business interests included oil wells, gold and diamond mines, and New York property.

In 1999, he and Ms Fernandez set up home in a 3 million seven-storey townhouse in Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh. They separated in May 2003 when he moved to live in the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

Ms Fernandez raised Scotland's biggest divorce action, seeking about 300 million, but the chief disputed her suggestion that they had gone through a marriage ceremony in Nigeria in 1982 under traditional tribal law. He said he was still married at that time to his American wife, Barbara, and had not been divorced from her until 1990.

In a change of tack, Ms Fernandez then decided that the basis of her case would not be that they had married in 1982, but that they should be deemed under Scots law to have been married by their living together in Edinburgh and holding themselves generally to be man and wife.

Eventually, the couple announced to the court that a settlement had been reached, although its terms were not disclosed. It was said that Ms Fernandez "accepts...no valid marriage exists between them".

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In the latest hearing, it was revealed that as part of the deal, Mr Fernandez was to have paid Ms Fernandez the 30,000 a month for three years. However, he stopped the payments when he claimed that Ms Fernandez breached the agreement.

Ms Fernandez denied the claims and asked the court to rule that the agreement was binding and to order Mr Fernandez to meet unpaid monthly sums, totalling 1,020,000.

In advance of the hearing, new lawyers for Mr Fernandez asked for a postponement as they had only just been instructed.

Lord Macphail refused. He said delays had been lamentable, and added: "It would be a truly abysmal situation if [Ms Fernandez], who had not been responsible for any delay, were to be obliged to wait until a date in 2007 for the disposal of the action."

On the date of the hearing, the judge was told the new lawyers had withdrawn from the case, and that Mr Fernandez had been advised about what might happen if he did not attend. He was not present, and Lord Macphail agreed to grant Ms Fernandez a decree by default.