Phones4U tycoon hits out at ‘campaign of terror’ by wine heiress

Phones4U tycoon John Caudwell hits out at ‘campaign of terror’ by French wine heiress as judge brands her dishonest and aggressive in stinging judgement on £17million shares battle

  • John Caudwell was taken to court by a financier with whom he ran a firm
  • She claimed she was constructively dismissed and entitled to millions in shares
  • He insisted she had fiddled £33,000 in expenses on top of her six-figure salary 
  • Judge finds she was constructively dismissed but had wrongly claimed expenses
  • He awards her £500,000 for her shares, but she could be hit by huge legal costs

The billionaire founder of Phones4u says a French financier put him through a campaign of terror’ after a top judge finally ended their long-running £20million legal battle today.

Tycoon John Caudwell faced French wine heiress Nathalie Dauriac in court after she claimed she was constructively dismissed and duped out of £17million worth of shares following a venture they launched together.

In a bitter legal battle between the two former colleagues, Mr Caudwell insisted the financial whizz-kid had fiddled £33,000 worth of expenses on top of her £200,000-a-year salary. 

A judge found today that Ms Dauriac had been constructively dismissed and was entitled to around £500,000 for the shares – but that she had made improper expenses claims.

Despite the six-figure sum she was awarded, Mr Caudwell said he expected she would end up out of pocket once the case’s huge legal costs had been taken in consideration.

Former Phones4U boss John Caudwell (right) has slammed his former colleague Nathalie Dauriac (left) as ‘dishonest’ following a bitter court row between the pair over a wealth management firm they set up together

The row stemmed from when Ms Dauriac, who previously worked for Coutts, the Queen’s bankers, set up a wealth management company called Signia with Caudwell in 2009.

The firm initially did well and, by November 2014, had assets of £1.47 billion, the High Court was told.

But things turned sour in 2014, when the pair each accused the other of wrongdoing and Ms Dauriac said she was constructively dismissed, losing more than £10 million worth of shares.

A judge ruled today that Ms Dauriac was constructively dismissed, and that she was entitled to nearly £500,000 for her shares. 

Mr Justice Marcus Smith however also found that Ms Dauriac had made expense claims she knew were ‘not proper’, including one for a £100 wedding cake for her husband.

Other expenses the judge said fell outside of the terms of her contract included flights to Malaga for the birthday of Real Housewives of Cheshire star Dawn Ward, and for a ‘detox week’ in Alicante.

In a statement given after the case, businessman Caudwell said the amount she was awarded would be dwarfed by the eye-watering legal costs of the case.

Ms Dauriac (second row, third from right) went into business with Mr Caudwell in 2009. She is pictured with other businesswomen and celebrities at a charity event in 2014

The businessman said: ‘Over the course of the last three years I have been to hell and back as a consequence of a series of vindictive and completely baseless allegations made against me in the course of high profile legal proceedings with my former business partner Nathalie Dauriac.

‘Throughout that period she waged what felt like a campaign of terror in an effort to extort £20million from me in the clear expectation that I would ultimately surrender and settle out of court. She was totally wrong in that assumption.

It is an immense relief to share with you that the Court has found Nathalie to have been dishonest, to have deliberately made expenses claims that, without question, she knew were improper and, when confronted regarding her conduct in this matter was guilty of using junior members of her staff to conceal her wrongdoing through the deliberate and deceitful manipulation of her expense records.

The judge branded Ms Dauriac, pictured during the trial, ‘a remarkably unsatisfactory witness’

Mr Caudwell continued: ‘It was a long battle, and I remain deeply scarred by the events, but I am delighted that Nathalie has been found by the judge to have been, in his words, dishonest, combative, aggressive and argumentative.’

‘The British legal system has delivered justice and lived up to its reputation as the very best in the world. I now aim to put this deeply upsetting chapter behind me and look forward to the rest of 2018 with a complete focus on my charity and philanthropic work, knowing that the truth has finally come to light.’

The complicated legal case took 13 days of court time in October and November last year and the judge has been working on his 263-page ruling ever since. 

On the issue of her departure from the company, the judge stated: ‘I have concluded that Ms Dauriac was constructively dismissed and, as a consequence, have concluded that Signia could not terminate the Service Agreement on grounds of Ms Dauriac’s breach of contract.’

On the matter of the shares however, he added: ‘As Mr Caudwell has accepted, a failure to comply with the provisions of the Articles constitutes a breach of contract on the part of Signia compensable in damages. 

‘I assess those damages in the amount of £471,510, less the nominal price that Ms. Dauriac was paid in relation to the Dauriac Shares.’ 

On the issue of her expenses however, the judge found: ‘I am satisfied so that I am sure that Ms Dauriac deliberately made expense claims that she knew were not proper claims.’ 

Speaking after the judgement, Ms Dauriac said she was ‘very pleased’ the judge had found she was constructively dismissed and awarded damages.

She repeated claims her legal team had made in court and said more should be done to protect women in the workplace.

John Caudwell (pictured promoting a new staff bonus scheme in 2003) sold his 85 per cent stake in Phones 4u for £1.74bn in 2006

Ms Dauriac said:’I was subjected to relentless pressure to accept a series of outrageous demands as the price for staying in my job.

‘The court heard that an attempt was made to pressure me into agreeing to take a lie detector test and see a psychiatrist, that I was asked not to have children while at the business, and that I was threatened with having my job downgraded.

‘During the course of the trial, there was also evidence showing that I and other female employees of John Caudwell were subject to written abuse by senior management. We were called many names, including ‘sociopath’ and ‘nasty bitch’.

‘I am shocked that Mr Justice Smith should not consider this material to the case and I believe the judicial system needs to do more to ensure that women are protected from such abuse in the future.

‘As a result, I have today written to the Chancellor of the High Court to ask him to look into judicial attitudes to professional women in business.

‘When it came to my expenses, the judge took little or no account of my role as founder and co-owner of a multi-million pound business, dedicating my personal and social life to generating business and maintaining relations with clients.’

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