A woman’s £12 million divorce action risks bringing about her own prosecution for alleged tax evasion, a judge has warned.
Caroline Crowther was told that the financial dispute with her former husband, a shipping tycoon, could lead to them both being investigated over a “criminal conspiracy”.
Ms Crowther, 49, and Captain Paul Anthony Crowther, 54, began a court fight with “a high degree of acrimony on both sides” after the collapse of their marriage in 2018.
She claims that an £8.15 million fleet of boats owned by offshore companies were assets of the marriage and should be considered as such when their wealth is split.
However, in the Court of Appeal this week Lord Justice Males warned that should Ms Crowther prove her case, the pair could both be implicated in a “criminal conspiracy . . . to evade tax properly due” on their earnings. The couple, who for 22 years lived in a £4.5 million manor house in Hartfield, East Sussex, ran a business chartering ships to offshore oil, gas and wind farm industries.
The row centres on a 2012 agreement the couple entered into with Steven Knight, an accountant based in Gibraltar, that five vessels would be transferred to one of Mr Knight’s offshore businesses. The couple made money by chartering, then sub-chartering, those ships or their successors.
Mr Crowther insists that the transfer was a genuine and straightforward transaction and that neither the Crowthers, nor their business, have any beneficial interest in the ships now. He denies any wrongdoing or tax evasion.
Ms Crowther claims the transaction was a “sham” carried out to dodge tax, and that the ships should be regarded as marital assets.
She obtained freezing orders banning them from being sold last year but these were overturned by a High Court judge this year.
Lord Justice Males has reimposed the freezing injunctions to preserve the value of the ships until the fight between the spouses has been decided. He said there were two possibilities: that the arrangement was valid, or it was a criminal conspiracy, adding that it would take “cogent evidence” to prove such an allegation.