Home / News / 'Financially unsophisticated' baroness who transferred her £2million divorce payout to crooked 'Svengali' lawyer could be left empty-handed even if she wins court battle for damages after he declared himself bankrupt

'Financially unsophisticated' baroness who transferred her £2million divorce payout to crooked 'Svengali' lawyer could be left empty-handed even if she wins court battle for damages after he declared himself bankrupt

Posted on Jun 16, 2021

An 'financially unsophisticated' aristocrat fighting to get her £2million life savings back from a crooked 'Svengali' could be left empty-handed even if she wins her case - after he declared himself bankrupt. 

Baroness Jacqueline Van Zuylen says she is suffering sleepless nights after handing all her money to 'persuasive and impressive' lawyer Rodney Whiston-Dew to invest on her behalf.

In return, Baroness van Zuylen, whose former husband was the scion of a mega-rich Dutch banking family, was promised a monthly income for life by the now-disgraced celeb solicitor.

After losing faith in the deal, which was agreed in 2012, she says that she asked for the money back. 

But she claims Mr Whiston-Dew, 70, who was struck off as a solicitor after being jailed in 2017 for his role in a £65million tax scam, did not return the money. 

Baroness van Zuylen is now suing him, demanding the £2million back, plus damages.

Lawyers for the former semi-professional dressage rider, who says she has 'never worked', told the High Court at an earlier hearing that she has been left having to 'beg, steal and borrow' to get by without her savings.

Mr Whiston-Dew denies any wrongdoing, claiming he invested the Baroness' money properly.

He also claimed he had tried to get her 'to rein in her extraordinary spending habits' and 'exorbitant personal expenditures' - which he said totaled upward of £200,000-a-year.

However, the first day of the High Court trial between the pair, Judge Nicholas Thompsell heard that Mr Whiston-Dew would not be turning up to court and has filed to be declared bankrupt.

Baroness Jacqueline Van Zuylen (pictured) says she is suffering sleepless nights after handing all her money to 'persuasive and impressive' lawyer Rodney Whiston-Dew to invest on her behalf in 2012

She claims Mr Whiston-Dew (pictured), 70, who was struck off as a solicitor after being jailed in 2017 for his role in a £65million tax scam, did not return the money

Baroness Van Zuylen was the third wife of Baron Thierry van Zuylen, a scion of a Dutch noble family who made a fortune in banking.

She owned a string of high profile racehorses and was a leading figure on the French racing scene for more than 50 years.

They split prior to the Baron's death in 2011 and after receiving a lucrative divorce settlement the Baroness settled into English rural high society in the picturesque Cotswolds village of Little Farringdon.

Meanwhile, her daughter Allegra - an alumni of top girls' private school Cheltenham Ladies' College - went to New York to study art.

The Baroness, who claims to be 'financially unsophisticated,' says she was persuaded by Mr Whiston-Dew to transfer cash including her divorce payout, in the sum of £2,103,619, via solicitors to GBT Global Ltd, an offshore company of which he was at the time the director.

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She claims she was promised a monthly income for life and signed a power of attorney in Mr Whiston-Dew's favour, giving him the right to handle her financial dealings.

But in 2017, after losing faith in the arrangement, she says she asked for her money back plus an explanation of what happened to it, but received neither.

That same year, Mr Whiston-Dew was jailed for ten years for his role in a £65million tax avoidance scam, purportedly linked to an eco-friendly reforestation project in Brazil.

He was struck off the register of solicitors the following year.

The Baroness is now suing Mr Whiston-Dew and GBT Global Ltd, demanding the whole of her original sum back, plus compensation for lost potential investment gains.

Outlining her case, her barrister Derrick Dale QC told the judge that Mr Whiston-Dew had told the Baroness her money would be put into a long-term property investment in a block of flats in Norwich and land in Essex.

'On the premise of very casual conversations, she is persuaded to transfer all her life savings,' he said.

Baroness Jacqueline Van Zuylen with her daughter Allegra pictured back in October 2010

'He immediately sets up a situation which involves him having control of everything.

'This is a complete fraudulent take, an investment scam. Her confidence is being manipulated and exploited in a Svengali way.'

The Baroness, giving evidence, told the judge she had not understood the arrangement she was getting into with Mr Whiston-Dew.

'My career has been a semi-professional dressage rider,' she told the judge.. 'I've not been a businesswoman.'

During an earlier hearing in the battle, Mr Dale said Baroness Van Zuylen had been left in a 'desperate' situation with no access to her cash.

'She handed all of her money to Mr Whiston-Dew and, since he has gone to prison, although payments continued for a short period, she has received no money, no money at all,' he said.

'She has had to beg, steal and borrow in order to be able to survive in a day to day existence. She can't pay her rent on the property she lives in.'

And as the trial kicked off last week, he said Mr Whiston-Dew had 'not attended trial' as expected, and additionally had made it known that he had 'filed for bankruptcy online'.

He would be 'technically made bankrupt' during the course of the trial, said the barrister.

Mr Whiston-Dew earlier said he would not attend the trial due to 'depression and anxiety' issues.

The court heard that he struggled so badly with the stress of trying to defend the baroness's claim from his prison cell that he had been put on anti-depressants by prison medics.

In his written defence to the action, he denied the Baroness' version of events and says he and the company were never involved in scamming her.

She had lost money on poor investments and was overspending on credit cards and overdrafts when they met, he claims.

He says he put what was left of her money in a trust fund, on the Caribbean island of Nevis, to preserve it.

Baroness Jacqueline Van Zuylen says she was tricked into investing £2m in her High Court writ

He was attempting to get her to 'rein in her extraordinary spending habits, which at the time exceeded £200,000 per annum,' he claims.

'At that rate of erosion of the trust fund, the capital would not last another decade,' he says.

Mr Whiston-Dew goes on to say he was 'called upon daily to deal with expenditures incurred by the Baroness including to landlords, travel agents, clothing suppliers, food suppliers, beverage suppliers, horse product suppliers, vehicle repairers, furniture suppliers (and)...horse acquisitions...

'The Baroness was very frequently travelling abroad, including involvement in horseriding expeditions and an interior design project in very remote parts of India, in east Africa, Italy, Holland and in the USA, leaving me to deal with ever-increasing calls from her bank. These became daily occurrences.'

He said the trust - known as the Azure Trust - was established under the 'precise wishes and understanding' of the Baroness on the island of Nevis and the UK courts have no jurisdiction to deal with a case concerning funds held there.

The trustee of the fund is 'not obliged to return the trust fund to the Baroness and in fact would be in breach of trust by doing so under the laws of Nevis,' he claims.

The judge has now reserved his judgment on the case, to be given at a later date.