A wealthy American financier’s French ex-wife has been handed a three-month jail sentence after a High Court judge ruled that she had breached an order relating to the ownership of a “premium luxury” ski chalet following divorce litigation in London.
Caroline de Vechere, 53, was found to be in contempt of court after failing to transfer ownership of the chalet in the French Alps to ex-husband Eric Hersman, 62, as ordered.
Mr Justice Moor, the judge, who heard that the pair were married for more than 20 years and had lived in South Kensington, London, imposed the sentence at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court after Mr Hersman launched contempt proceedings.
De Vechere was not at the hearing – staged in public at the Royal Courts of Justice complex in London – and was not represented by a barrister.
The judge, who heard that de Vechere was thought to be in France, made an order which means she could be arrested and imprisoned if she travels to England or Wales.
He said she could apply to “purge” her contempt.
Lawyers representing Mr Hersman said he did not want de Vechere to go to jail, but to comply with the order to transfer ownership of the chalet.
The judge heard that Chalet Pearl, in Courchevel, could be worth in the region of £15 million.
Barrister Tim Amos KC, who led Mr Hersman’s legal team, told Mr Justice Moor how another judge had made an order in 2019, after overseeing a dispute about money between de Vechere and Mr Hersman at High Court hearings in London.
Mr Justice Moor heard that Mr Hersman had been ordered to pay de Vechere a lump sum of about £700,000, and de Vechere had been ordered to transfer ownership of the ski chalet.
He was told that the pair had also jointly owned a villa in Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera.
Mr Amos told Mr Justice Moor: “The case concerns the sedulous, repeated failure of the respondent ex-wife to transfer to the applicant husband a premier luxury ski chalet in Courchevel, known as Chalet Pearl.”
“(De Vechere) has gone to immense lengths to frustrate (Mr Hersman’s) position.”
Mr Amos told Mr Justice Moor that there had been a “misappropriation” by de Vechere of more than £1.5 million in rent between October 2021 and February 2023.
He said there was an “urgency” to “get (de Vechere) out” before the impending ski season and told Mr Justice Moor that Mr Hersman had “lucrative clients lined up to rent Chalet Pearl”.
Mr Justice Moor said he was “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt” that de Vechere had breached an order and was in contempt. He said de Vechere had “no right” to rent out the chalet.
The judge said “contempt of the High Court” was a “very serious matter” and added: “This contempt is so serious that an immediate sentence of imprisonment is the only sentence that I can pass.”
He told the hearing that de Vechere would serve half of the three-month sentence before being eligible for release on licence – and said, if arrested, she would return to court for a further hearing.
Lawyers told him that the pair had also been involved in litigation in France.