Grant-maker ordered to hand £280m to another charity after divorce case

The Children's Investment Fund Foundation, founded by Sir Christopher Hohn and his ex-wife Jamie Cooper, must give the cash to Cooper's new charity, Big Win Philanthropy

Jamie Cooper and Sir Christopher Hohn
Jamie Cooper and Sir Christopher Hohn

The High Court has ordered a grant-making children’s charity to hand £280m to another charity after the settlement of a high-profile divorce case.

The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, founded by the hedge-fund manager Sir Christopher Hohn and his ex-wife Jamie Cooper, who both sit on its trustee board, has been told it must give £280m to Cooper’s new charity, Big Win Philanthropy, according to a judgment handed down on Friday.

Cooper was awarded £330m as a result of the couple’s divorce proceedings in 2014, which the judge at the time said reflected Cooper’s contribution to the marriage and the accumulation of Hohn’s wealth.

In a separate move in 2015, Cooper requested $500m (£393m) from CIFF to fund BWP in return for stepping down from CIFF’s board, but accepted an offer of $360m (£280m) instead, according to Friday’s judgment.

But CIFF brought the grant before the High Court for approval before going ahead with it.

In court, Jonathan Crow QC, acting for Hohn, argued that it would be wrong for the payment to be made because it had not been arranged because of the charity’s needs but as part of the haggling of the divorce proceedings.

He argued it was not within the grant-making powers of the charity’s trustees to make a payment in order to secure a trustee's resignation, which instead had to be approved by the members of the CIFF company: Hohn, Cooper and their long-time friend Marko Lehtimaki.

But Sir Geoffrey Vos, the High Court chancellor who heard the case, said it would be in the best interests of CIFF to make the grant and it would be inappropriate for the charity to renege on its agreement.

He ruled that the grant would still need to be approved by CIFF’s members, but Hohn and Cooper were ineligible to vote, and he directed Lehtimaki, the sole remaining member, to approve the grant.

As part of the deal, Cooper had also agreed to give $40m (£31m) of her own money to BWP if the CIFF grant was made.

As well as allowing extra money to be secured for charitable purposes, Vos said his ruling would "allow Ms Cooper to devote her considerable talents to a charity with increased assets".

He said in his ruling: "The making of the grant will bring a conclusion to this dispute and the governance problems that it has created for CIFF, and will avoid further legal and other expenses being incurred and allow the protagonists to return to devoting their efforts and talents to charity."

Matthew Dontzin, lead lawyer at the American legal firm Dontzin Nagy & Fleissig, which represents Cooper, said: "Ms Cooper appreciates the chancellor’s thoughtful resolution of a complex and challenging dispute."

A spokesman for the Charity Commission, which will now need to ratify the judgment, said: "We note the judgment of the court in the CIFF case. We will be giving full consideration to the proposed grant when the matter is referred to us in line with the judgment."

Big Win Philanthropy declined to comment, and Withers, the solicitors acting for Hohn, said he would also not be commenting.

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