An acrimonious power struggle over the Aman Resorts international super luxury hotel chain is heading for trial at London’s High Court in November. But today one of the country’s top judges rejected one party’s claim that even it if it loses it will still be entitled to US$23m (£14.8m).
The Sherway Group and its controller Carl Eliasch had sought an order that Peak Hotels and Resorts Ltd (PHRL) should pay that sum up front now, four months ahead of the scheduled five-week trial. They also sought US$9m (£5.8m) of a US$10m (£6.4) sum already paid into court by PHRL.
However, at the High Court today Mr Justice Barling today rejected both applications, leaving the status quo in place until resolution of the trial.
He said that both applications arose during the course of what he described as a “complicated and acrimonious dispute about the ownership and control of a group which owns and runs a chain of small luxury hotels and resorts in Asia, Europe and the Americas under the brand name Aman Resorts”. The chain was founded over 20 years ago by Adriaan Zecha.
Aman Resorts was bought for US$358m (£230m) in January 2014 by Omar Amanat and Vladislav Doronin, controller of Tarek Investments Ltd (TIL) through a joint venture company, Peak Hotels and Resorts Group Ltd (PHRG) and, in April 2014, Mr Amanat and Mr Eliasch agreed that Sherway would loan PHRL, which is now controlled by a family trust connected with Mr Amanat, US$50m (£32m). This resulted in Mr Eliasch acquiring an indirect stake of about 14% in PHRG, and he replaced Mr Amanat as a director.
However, the judge said: “Almost as soon as the joint venture company was formed relations between Mr Amanat and Mr Doronin had begun to break down.
“Mr Amanat and PHRL allege that Mr Eliasch falsely represented to Mr Amanat that he was not a close friend or business associate of Mr Doronin, and would safeguard and promote the interests of PHRL in the conduct of the joint venture company’s business, whereas in fact Mr Eliasch and Mr Doronin were good friends and their intention from the outset had been to pursue a strategy designed to exclude PHRL and those connected with it, including Mr Amanat and Mr Zecha, from the joint venture company, and to assume control of Aman Resorts.
“Mr Doronin, Mr Eliasch and their respective corporate vehicles deny these allegations. They contend that they have done their best to run the joint venture company and its business in the best interests of all the shareholders, but have been faced with a ‘greenmailing’ strategy of disruption in the running and financing of the business. This, they contend, has been carried out by Mr Amanat in order to put pressure on Mr Doronin and TIL to either buy PHRL out of the joint venture company at a premium, or to sell TIL’s share in it to Mr Amanat or a third party at a discount.”
The various claims and counter-claims between the parties are scheduled to be heard in a trial beginning in November.
However, the judge said that, in these applications, Sherway and Mr Eliasch claimed that, even if they lost, the minimum they would be entitled to recover from PHRL would be US$23,426,041. They sought an interim payment in that sum.
He added that the court had great difficulty making such an order in litigation as “multi-faceted and complex as this” and said he was not satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Sherway and Eliasch would obtain final judgement for a substantial sum of money from PHRL.
Since 1988, when flagship Amanpuri opened in Phuket, Thailand, Aman Resorts has established resorts in Bhutan, Cambodia, China, France, Greece, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Laos, Montenegro, Morocco, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the US and Vietnam.