Omani businessman appeals US recognition of English bankruptcy

An Omani citizen is seeking to overturn a Florida court’s recognition of his English bankruptcy, which he describes as “a divorce case being played out on the international stage”.

On 19 May in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida, Talal Al Zawawi filed a notice of appeal against a recognition order granted to Grant Thornton’s Michael Leeds, Colin Diss and Hannah Davie as his bankruptcy trustees.

Al Zawawi initially opted to have the appeal heard by a bankruptcy appellate panel, but it has since been transferred to the local district court. The grounds of appeal have yet to be published.

Herron Hill Law Group shareholder Kenneth Herron is counsel to Al Zawawi on the appeal, while Sequor Law shareholder Leyza B. Florin and attorney Cristina Beard are advising the trustees.

The bankruptcy court recognised the trustees on 6 May, six weeks after granting them interim recognition.

The trustees sought recognition to block any party from transferring property owned by Al Zawawi, including any ownership interest he may hold in four Florida companies and a Texan company that does business in Florida, as well Omani businessman appeals US recognition of English bankruptcy as to obtain discovery powers to investigate his finances.

Judge Lori Vaughan issued the recognition order despite an objection from Al Zawawi, who argued that he did not have any ownership interests in the five companies.

“This case does not involve an international business entity or any other form of international intrigue,” Al Zawawi said in his objection. “It merely involves a divorce case being played out on the international stage.”

Al Zawawi, a UK resident with Omani citizenship, has been subject to bankruptcy proceedings in England since June last year. His ex-wife had filed a bankruptcy petition against him over failure to pay a 2019 divorce decree, which required him to pay her £24 million (US$34.1 million).

The businessman received a prison sentence a month after the decree was issued, due to his failure to comply with an order to disclose financial information to his ex-wife’s lawyers. His assets are currently subject to a worldwide freezing order.

The trustees responded to Al Zawawi’s objection by claiming that he was a director of the Florida companies, that the companies owed US$94 million of assets between them and that he indirectly owned them through a Curaçao holding company, Qapa Investing Corporation.

They have obtained a Curaçao attachment order against Qapa, which is coowned by the businessman and his six siblings.

Since securing the recognition order, the trustees have filed notices of examination on the US branches of several banks, including Barclays, Citibank and Deutsche Bank, seeking documents relating to Al Zawawi’s financial affairs.

Judge Gregory Presnell has been assigned to the appeal proceedings in the district court. He has yet to schedule a hearing.

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