High Court judge dismisses Owen Oyston's freezing order application

A High Court judge has dismissed Owen Oyston's application to have a legal freezing order on his assets discharged.

Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 11:33 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 12:26 pm
Owen Oyston has had his application to discharge a freezing order on his assets dismissed

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UPDATED: Oyston branded 'vindictive' and 'nasty' as judge defers case

During a day-long hearing in London last week, Oyston’s barrister Andrew Collings QC argued that the freezing order was no longer necessary and there was no risk of Oyston’s assets disappearing.

But Andrew Green QC, representing Valeri Belokon, said the freezing order should not be lifted. He said that in the seven months since the order was made there was no evidence that Oyston intended voluntarily to pay what he owed.

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Justice Marcus Smith reserved his judgement until today, where he has dismissed Oyston’s application.

This now means Belokon can now plough ahead with taking Oyston's assets to auction to recoup the £25m he is still owed.

In giving his verdict, Justice Marcus Smith said: “In this case, a substantial judgment debt remains unsatisfied, despite the passage of a number of months since the judgment debt became unconditionally due.

“Judgment was handed down on November 6, 2017. Apart from the payment of £10m in December 2017, no voluntary payment has been made by the respondents.

“This is not because of an absence of assets.

“The respondents have contended, on a number of occasions, that they are asset rich, but that these assets will take time to realise because they are illiquid.

“That is the entire reason why the November 6 order imposed a stay: in order to give the respondents time to pay.

“Yet, in the five months that have intervened since the payment of the £10m, very few assets have been realised, and the respondents have shown a quite remarkable lack of proactivity.

“Indeed, so far as the properties which the petitioner seeks to sell are concerned, the respondents are actively opposing sale, on grounds yet to be clarified.

“Where a judgment debtor, having or appearing to have sufficient assets to discharge the judgment debt, takes steps to avoid paying that debt, then the Court is entitled to infer that there is a risk of dissipation.

“But, I remind myself, absent the freezing order, there is nothing illegal or wrong in the respondents seeking to so deal with their assets as to render it difficult to enforce the judgment debt against those assets.

“The whole raison d’être of the freezing order regime is to prevent a judgment debtor from doing what otherwise could lawfully be done. I consider that these facts alone are sufficient to justify the conclusion that, absent the freezing order, there is a real risk of dissipation such that the judgment debt to the petitioner will remain unsatisfied.

“The conduct of the respondents since the Judgment was handed down has only served to exacerbate my sense that the respondents’ financial affairs are opaque and that, unless restrained by the freezing order, assets will be disposed of in a manner that benefits the respondents, with no regard to the interests of the petitioner.

“As I have noted, the petitioner has obtained various charging orders over property and shares.

“Attempts are being made to sell some of this property, but these attempts are being resisted.

“For these reasons, the application to vary or discharge the freezing order is dismissed.”

The court also heard last week how Oyston’s wife, Vicki, who is divorcing Oyston, has become involved in the action.

Owen and Vicki originally divorced in 1982 but remarried in 1988.

The judge heard Vicki could potentially also have financial or beneficial interests in more of his assets which are the subject of a freezing injunction and legal charging orders to settle his court-imposed debt.

And, to complicate the matter still further, there could also be an issue as to which court has priority in dealing with Oyston’s assets – the matrimonial court or the High Court’s Chancery division.

Addressing this issue, Justice Marcus Smith said: "To date, Mrs. Oyston has only been joined as a party to enforcement action relating to Claughton Hall. But the position is a fluid one.

"Clearly, I can make no findings – one way or the other – regarding Mrs. Oyston’s interest.

"However, it does seem to me appropriate and necessary, for the purpose of assessing the proper scope and extent of the freezing order, to assume that one half of the frozen assets can be claimed by Mrs. Oyston and the other half only be claimable by the Petitioner from Mr. Oyston.

"For these reasons, I consider that the need for the freezing order persists, and the freezing order should not be discharged."

Oyston still owes £25m to Belokon to buy back his shares in the club after Justice Marcus Smith ruled last year that Oyston had “illegitimately stripped” Blackpool FC of assets after it was promoted to the Premier League in 2010.

It was found that the Oystons had unfairly prejudiced the Latvian, who accused them of “improperly” extracting tens of millions of pounds from the club.

The club was put up for sale four days later.

Oyston claimed on April 26 that the club had reached an agreement with an unnamed investment group but no further details have been revealed.