Natalia Potanin was married to Vladimir Potanin for 30 years. Vladimir has a $17 billion dollar net worth that he amassed during the pivotal years of privatization after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1992, he and Mikhail Prokhorov (the current owner of the Brooklyn Nets) opened one of the first private banks in Russia. Potanin and Prokhorov made off very well for the rest of the decade, thanks mainly to Boris Yeltsin's controversial "loans-for-shares" programs, acquiring assets in nickel, oil, shipping, and steel. Today, Potanin is the CEO of Norilsk Nickel and his 30 percent stake in the company is worth an estimated $7 billion. Oh, and by the way, Vladimir is a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir suddenly filed for divorce in November 2013. To make matters worse, he asked the court to make the divorce retroactive to January 16, 2007. According to him, that was the exact day that he decided the marriage wasn't going well. Of course, this was a power play to protect his assets. That date in 2007 was before Vladimir and his business partner split and divided their company.
The day that Vladimir surprised Natalia with the divorce was a normal one, right up until that point. Natalia and Vladimir were at the dinner table with their sons, planning a trip to the U.S. with their youngest son, who was going to be enrolling in an American school. They were discussing exams and tutors. They talked about what movies to see and musicals to go to while in the U.S. It was, by all accounts, a normal dinner table conversation.
After dinner Vladimir left the room for a moment. When he returned, he handed Natalia divorce papers and told her that he was fed up and wanted a divorce. She thought he was joking. That was the last time she spoke to the man she had loved, lived with, and raised three children with for 30 years.
Just like that Vladimir disappeared from Natalia and her sons' lives. Natalia took her son to New York to get ready for school in September. While she was gone, Vladimir had the family home torn down and immediately cut off her access to the couple's bank accounts.
Of course, the court ruled for Vladimir and declared the termination date of the marriage was in 2007, not 2013. Natalia presented a ton of photos showing that they were living together, going on vacation together, and living a normal life up until the evening Vladimir filed for divorce. The court chose to rule for President Vladimir Putin's friend. Funny how that happens in Russia, isn't it?
When it came time to offer Natalia a settlement – money that would support his children – he didn't offer a single penny. Natalia and her children were homeless and penniless.
Now, Natalia Potanin has taken her case back to the courts. She has filed a lawsuit in Moscow to try to get $15 billion from her ex-husband. She has asked the court to acknowledge shares of three foreign companies as property acquired during her marriage.
Under Russian law, the property acquired during a marriage is considered community property and should be divided into equal parts in a divorce. That didn't happen with the Potanin family because of the backdating of the divorce.
Back in April 2015, Natalia filed a lawsuit seeking 50% ownership of Vladimir's stake in Norlisk Nickel and 50% of Interros International. The court of Moscow dismissed the lawsuit in the fall of 2015. Natalia appealed the ruling. The Moscow District Court upheld it in January 2016.
The new lawsuit is expected to go to trial in early June.