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I can't pay ex-wife, tycoon tells judge.

Byline: Strand News Service

THE boss of Laura Ashley has told a top judge he is struggling to pay his estranged wife's maintenance because of "cash-flow" problems.

Dr Khoo Kay Peng, 76, is locked in a PS400m divorce battle with his estranged wife of 43 years, Pauline Siew Phin Chai, who was Miss Malaysia in 1969.

A judge found in Miss Chai's favour last October that the divorce proceedings should be heard in the UK as the couple fight a "parallel" case in their native Malaysia.

While the "expensive gallop" between the two countries continues Dr Peng has failed to pay more than PS400,000 in legal and maintenance costs to his wife.

A top judge at London's Civil Appeal Court said he was "not persuaded at all" by claims that Dr Peng - one of Malaysia's richest men - is experiencing a "cash-flow issue".

He said: "The time has come to be absolutely plain in dealing with him in that those sums need to be paid and they need to be paid on time."

Lord Justice McFarlane said the couple, who have five children, launched into the dispute in 2013.

Miss Chai claims her husband's vast assets were "built up during the marriage", but Dr Peng "disputes that" as they battle over the partition of the massive sums involved.

Miss Chai, 68, argued she is habitually resident in Britain, while her husband insisted the divorce case should be heard in Malaysia.

Mr Justice Bodey ruled at the High Court last October that the costly dispute should be heard in this country. Earlier this year Mrs Justice Roberts ordered Dr Peng to pay his wife PS110,000 a month to cover maintenance and legal fees while the case continues, but he has since racked up more than PS400,000 in arrears, the court heard.

Only PS144,000 of the payments have been made after she secured a debt order against a bank account he had in the UK, her lawyers said.

Richard Todd, QC, for Miss Chai, argued Dr Peng "has not voluntarily paid a penny".

He insisted Dr Peng has valuable shares in the furnishing and fashion house Laura Ashley - which was based in Mid Wales for several decades - as well as an income of around PS4m a year, more than PS400m in assets, and is paying his lawyers PS50,000 a month.

The barrister argued Dr Peng had continued to enjoy an "extravagant lifestyle" with "unfettered access to the matrimonial assets".

Meanwhile, Miss Chai has, he said, been excluded from the couple's former "fabulous life" and "deprived of her opportunity of properly defending herself ".

Timothy Scott, QC, for Dr Peng, accepted the monthly payments were due, but he argued the cash should be raised by allowing Dr Peng to borrow PS2m against the PS30m Rossway Park Estate in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, where Miss Chai lives.

He said Miss Chai was "spending her husband's money as fast as she can" while she lives in the 15-bedroom, 1,000-acre property they bought in 2000.

But a charge on the property would "bring home" to Miss Chai - who was crowned Miss Malaysia in 1969 - that the cash must come from somewhere, the QC argued.


Pauline Chai, 68, outside the High Court

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Mar 6, 2015
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