“A depressingly long story,” complains London High Court Judge Jonathan Cohen at the very beginning of his decision, which put an end to the divorce proceedings between Maria-Ra co-owner Alla Rakshina and her ex-husband Lazar Ksandopulo. The decision was made at the end of March and published on April 4.
A year ago, Forbes wrote in detail about this family drama. The marriage, which began in 2006, in 2020 turned into a lawsuit for the spouses, which dragged on for two and a half years. In total, the parties held more than 60 hearings in Russia and England, fighting for custody of their daughters (their names were not disclosed) and assets. Rakshina, this process cost £ 9 million – it was the ex-member of the Forbes list who was forced to pay legal costs for herself and her husband. In an interim ruling in 2022, another British judge, Nicholas Mostyn, was not shy about epithets, describing this divorce as “shocking”, “nihilistic”, “apocalyptic”.
How did the lawsuit end, which surprised even experienced British judges?
“His enthusiasm and zeal were fading away”
On a November evening in 2013, Alla Rakshina and Lazar Ksandopulo left the office of a Moscow notary. It was Friday, and the couple joined a group of former classmates to have a pleasant end to the work week. Their mood was hardly cloudless. For years, there have been disagreements between them. And in the notary’s office, young people signed a marriage contract. So this period is described in the materials of the High Court of London, where in nine years the agreement will be studied in detail.
Alla Rakshina was born in Barnaul. In 1993, when she was 13, her father, former teacher Alexander Rakshin, opened the first Maria-Ra branded store, named after his mother Maria. Today “Maria-Ra” is the largest trading network in Western Siberia. Nearly 1,300 stores operate under this sign in five regions.
Lazar Xandopulo is a year older than Alla Rakshina, he was born in Russia in a Greek and Russian family, and from the age of 10 he began to live in Athens. In the late 1990s, he returned to Moscow to study international law at MGIMO, where he met Rakshina. Young people started dating, but got married only in 2006, before the birth of their first daughter.
By that time, Rakshina began to earn extra money in the family business, like her older brother Evgeny. At first, Rakshina worked in the accounting department, and a few years later she became the financial director of the network. Alexander Rakshin wanted to involve his son-in-law in the family business. As Forbes wrote, Xandopulo managed the Maria-Ra distribution center. But his career in the retail chain was short-lived and ended in 2008. According to the documents of the London court, Xandopulo showed no interest in business and gradually “his enthusiasm and zeal faded away.” Xandopulo himself objected that at some point he was simply suspended from work.
The first years after the wedding, the young family lived in Barnaul. And in 2011, Rakshina and Ksandopulo rented an apartment in London, where their daughter began attending a day school. Just at this time, the marriage cracked. At the court hearings, Rakshina described three main causes of conflicts: Xandopulo could not find a job, almost did not help her in family matters, and, finally, did not want to quit smoking. She began to wonder if he had married her just for the money. And in the fall of 2013, in the marriage contract, the spouses prescribed that any property, even acquired in marriage, after a divorce, remains indivisible and belongs to the one to whom it was registered. “Mr. Xandopulo suggested that Mrs. Rakshina sign this contract, because he wanted to prove the disinterestedness of his relationship in this marriage, as well as his intention to start working and earning money on his own,” explains Ekaterina Tyagay, partner at Pen & Paper, who represented Alla Rakshina in court. “Moreover, at the time of the conclusion of the marriage contract, he refused Mrs. Rakshina’s proposal to provide for a certain payment in his favor in the event of a divorce.” But at the hearings in London, Xandopulo argued that the text of the agreement was allegedly prepared in advance by his wife and he had no chance to influence it in any way.
“Set a trap”
In February 2016, Alla Rakshina bought an apartment in an unnamed prestigious area of London for about £6.3 million. Their daughter began attending a secondary school in the British capital, and in the autumn Rakshina gave birth to her second child. It is incorrect to say that Rakshina and Ksandopulo lived in London, Tyagai notes: the family stayed in the London apartment periodically during trips related to their daughter’s education. Court documents confirm that Rakshina had to constantly fly between London, Moscow and Barnaul in order to participate in the life of Maria-Ra. At the same time, Xandopulo spent most of his time in the UK during school semesters.
The couple spent the pandemic and self-isolation of 2020 in Barnaul. And they returned to the British capital only in September. At the same time, Rakshina bought two more apartments in London – next door to the house where the family already had an apartment. In October 2020, she returned to London after another business trip to Russia. A few days later, Xandopulo handed her a divorce application. Rakshina soon discovered that her accounts at Coutts were blocked. The court documents explicitly state that Xandopulo “set a trap” for his wife. “Mr. Xandopulo hired his first lawyers on September 10, 2020, and he filed for divorce with the UK court on September 21, 2020,” Tyagay explains. “At the same time, it was handed over to Ms. Rakshina only late in the evening on October 2, 2020, on the day when Mr. Xandopulo received a court order in absentia to impose a ban on the disposal of funds in Coutts Bank.”
After that, Xandopulo left the family apartment and began to rent housing in the London area of Battersea. Rakshina allocated money for this to him. She also paid for her husband’s legal expenses. Such is the peculiarity of London proceedings in divorce cases – the less well-off party can demand payments from the other half for their maintenance. Already in January 2021, Ksandopulo began to receive £20,000 a month from Rakshina.
In court, Rakshina described the situation in which she found herself as a “Kafkaesque nightmare” – she alone paid her expenses and Xandopulo’s expenses, and also supported her daughters. In parallel, another divorce process started in Russia: in the spring of 2021, a Russian court ruled that children should live with their mother. Litigation in London dragged on for several years. Rakshina was forced to live in London – only in the summer of 2022, the court allowed her to take her youngest daughter to Russia. “Unfortunately, as soon as the Russian court determined the place of residence of the children with their mother, the English court enforced this decision and Ms. Rakshina and her youngest daughter returned to Russia, Mr. Xandopulo actually stopped communicating with his daughters, stopped participating in their lives, sabotaged the execution of the necessary documents and only occasionally continued to refer to the existence of children in the English process on the division of assets, ”Tyagay says.
“In Russian culture, it is customary for men to dictate to women”
The divorce of Rakshina and Ksandopulo took place in Russia, the Russian court also determined with whom the daughters should live. It took the High Court of London a long time to deal with the financial claims of the ex-spouse. Xandopulo insisted for a long time that his wife was a wealthy woman. For example, he referred to Forbes, which allegedly put Rakshina in 75th place in the list of the richest women in Russia with an estimated fortune of £300 million. This is a mistake. The last time Rakshina appeared in the Forbes ranking of the richest women in 2016, when her share in the family business was estimated at only $ 75 million. After that, none of the representatives of the Rakshins family appeared in the Forbes ratings.
Now Rakshina owns 25% in Maria-Ra. Other co-owners with similar stakes are network founder Alexander Rakshin, his second wife Galina and son Evgeny. Rakshin Sr. began distributing shares among family members back in the early 2010s, fearing a hostile takeover. But the court in London did not even consider the Maria-Ra shares to be the personal property of Alla Rakshina. Why? As follows from the court documents, the Rakshin family business is built on patriarchal principles.
“It is accepted in Russian culture – and this applies to my family as well – that men dictate the degree of financial independence to women,” Rakshina explained in court. “My father and brother believed that by hiring me in their companies, they give me the opportunity to earn a living. They dictate whether I receive dividends – and when. I have no control over the shareholding.” When asked by the court whether Rakshina could sell her shares whenever she wanted, her brother, who also spoke at the hearing, replied: “No.”
For her position, Rakshina received a very modest remuneration. In 2018-2022, her salary, taking into account bonuses that were not paid every year, averaged £85,400 (8.6 million rubles at the current exchange rate). In 2012, Maria-Ra began paying dividends, Rakshina received £9.5 million. At the same time, at the request of her father, she transferred payments of 2020 in the amount of £ 7 million to his account. As a result, the court did not even begin to evaluate the value of the shares, although Judge Cohen’s decision gives a rough estimate of the value of the family business – about £400 million.
Rakshina’s fortune was estimated by the court at £12.9 million. Real estate in Russia and the UK accounts for £6.8 million, of which £4.9 million is the cost of a London apartment. Two apartments bought in 2020 in the neighborhood are not on the list of assets, although Xandopulo, when filing for divorce, claimed them as well. The apartments were bought with the money of Yevgeny Rakshin, and the High Court of London decided that it was he who was their real owner.
Rakshina’s bank accounts keep £7.7 million. Back in 2012-2014, Rakshina’s mother transferred her about £13 million, hoping that her granddaughters would get this money. But in 2021, according to court documents, Rakshina spent all her personal savings on the divorce proceedings and began to take money from the emergency reserve. In addition, her mother lent her another £1.4 million, which will need to be repaid in the future.
What about the assets of the ex-spouse? “What Xandopulo did during the marriage remains a mystery, since 2008 he has not earned anything,” the court decision says. Xandopulo himself claimed to have contributed as a householder (“house husband,” according to court records). In addition, he allegedly looked for investment property in London for Yevgeny Rakshin. Alla Rakshina, however, claimed that all the time while they were married, both household chores and the upbringing of children were left to her and the staff. Her brother’s brother-in-law’s help in the selection of investment property also denied.
“The strongest in a pair”
The demands that Rakshina made at the trial were estimated at £8.5 million. In addition to the London apartments, which the court considered the property of Yevgeny Rakshina, Xandopulo expected to receive £3 million from his wife to buy a house in Greece south of Athens, as well as about £ 500,000 for the purchase of furniture and repairs. “Ridiculously overblown,” Judge Cohen described Xandopulo’s demands. Rakshina’s lawyers presented information from open sources at the trial, which testified that spacious three-bedroom apartments in the area south of Athens chosen by Xandopoulo cost €500,000-560,000.
“Mr Xandopoulo did not present any counter-arguments or alternatives, including no examples of the £3m property he was claiming for the house in Greece,” Tyagai says.
According to Tyagai, at the trial, Lazar Ksandopulo tried to convince the court that “he has nothing to do with Russia and is afraid to enter it because of unexplained threats, but plans to live in the UK.” But Judge Cohen decided that it is unlikely that Xandopulo will need real estate in the UK at all, follows from the text of the court decision. He is close to relatives, most of whom live in Russia. Xandopulo’s father lives in Greece, his sister lives in Spain, and he spent a lot of time with them. And it is unlikely, Judge Cohen considered, that Xandopulo will be able to build a career in London after the divorce.
In the final decision, Judge Cohen ordered that Alla Rakshina would pay her ex-husband a salary for four years. In the first year, it will be £75,000, then it will be reduced to £60,000. In addition, Rakshina will allocate €600,000 for the purchase of a house in Greece by Xandopoulo and another €60,000 for furnishing.
The marriage contract signed by Rakshina and Ksandopulo in 2013 in Moscow did not involve any division of property. “The procedure for the division of assets in the UK was carried out under a special section of the law (Part III Proceedings) – for citizens whose marriage has already been dissolved abroad,” explains Tyagay. – This division of property is somewhat different from a full-fledged divorce with the division of assets, which takes place entirely in the UK. Nevertheless, by virtue of English law, no marriage contract is binding on the court, although the court takes into account its content. Tyagai notes that it was Rakshina who offered to provide her ex-husband with maintenance and money to buy real estate.
An important condition is that the house in Greece will not belong to Xandopulo. He will not be able to rent out this property and leave it unoccupied. In fact, the house will belong to the ex-wife Rakshina until he acquires his own housing. This condition will eventually allow the transfer of Greek real estate to the daughters of Rakshina and Xandopulo, and will also protect against the claims of creditors that the ex-spouse had after the divorce. The court ruling says that Xandopulo owes about £900,000 to his lawyers.
The history of Xandopulo’s relationship with British lawyers is given a lot of space in the court decision. He changed seven law firms, increasing the cost of the proceedings at every stage, while, as Judge Cohen notes, he delivered the necessary documents on time, filed incomplete information, and violated almost every court order. “The costs are beyond all reasonable understanding,” Cohen argues in his decision. In two and a half years, Rakshina spent £4.3 million on her own expenses and £4.2 million on her ex-husband’s expenses. In addition, since December 2020, she has spent £300,000 maintaining Xandopulo and another £320,000 renting him a home in Battersea. For comparison, Roman Abramovich’s legal costs in court with Boris Berezovsky amounted to £35 million.
Lazar Xandopulo spent most of the trial in Greece. At the final hearing, which lasted from 15 to 22 March, he did not appear. And his lawyers, admitting that they had not received instructions from their client, left the hearing altogether. The last time Xandopulo spoke with the judge was on March 9, via video link and with the camera turned off. Since then, according to court documents, he “was neither seen nor heard from. He just disappeared.” Before that, Xandopulo was treated in Greece for depression. There has been no word yet that he wants to appeal Judge Cohen’s decision.
“There is no doubt that these proceedings, especially those involving children, have caused enormous damage to X (as Lazar Xandopulo is indicated in the text of the decision. – Forbes), Judge Cohen argues. – I’m not saying that W (Alla Rakshina. – Forbes) had less stress, but perhaps she showed herself to be the strongest in a couple, and, of course, she maintained her close relationship with both children, which X could not do “.