Nicolas Sarkozy personally intervened on behalf of the Aga Khan in the protracted divorce proceedings of the Ismaili spiritual leader and his estranged wife, it has been reported. The news, broken by The Times, comes after France’s highest court has quashed a 2011 appeal court divorce ruling awarding Begum Aga Khan a €60 million settlement.
The newspaper reports that Sarkozy, a lawyer by profession, “began negotiating directly on the Prince’s behalf with his estranged wife’s lawyers [last] October with the aim of obtaining a settlement, according to sources close to the case”. Although no settlement was reached, Sarkozy’s “pulling the strings in the background” for the Aga Khan, as one source termed it, is considered unusual given that he was still President of France at the time. Four years earlier, in 2008, Sarkozy had used a rare “courtesy” power as head of state to grant the “Aga Khan an exemption from all French taxes — on the ground that the twice-married Prince had based his philanthropic activities in France”, The Times continues.
The 76-year-old Aga Khan and his 49-year-old second wife Begum Inaara, formerly Gabriele Thyssen, have been locked in an eight-year legal battle, which commenced in Switzerland, passed through the British courts and has ended up in France. The legal fees incurred so far have reportedly already made it one of the most expensive divorce cases in history. More bills may be expected to rack up as the case goes for retrial. The original appeals court ruled that that the Aga Khan was to blame for the collapse of the marriage on grounds of his adultery. It rejected his counter-allegation that the Begum Aga Khan did not attend to her religious duties as his spouse. The court failed to establish the extent of the Aga Khan’s wealth, but “it heard estimates of €5 billion to € 10 billion”, mostly from voluntary donations from the 15-million strong global Ismaili community, the newspaper reports.
The court “raised a settlement of €12 million to €60 million”, The Times continues, adding that the Aga Khan then further approached the highest French court, “not over the financial settlement but over the ruling that he bore all responsibility for the marital breakdown”. The Aga Khan is a British citizen and has the unique distinction of being the only person outside the Royal Family upon whom the Queen has personally bestowed the rank and title of Prince of the United Kingdom. He is reported to be in a long standing relationship with 41-year-old divorcee Beatrice von der Schulenburg.