How the Super Rich Pretend That They're Not

A deep dive into how one man hid $400M from his soon-to-be ex-wife
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2016 3:01 PM CST
Stock image   (Getty Images/gece33)

(Newser) – One part Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and one part The Big Short, a recent New York Times piece gives readers a chance to "peer inside the hidden world of the super rich"— or at least at the system they use to hide everything that makes them super rich. Sarah Pursglove married her husband, Robert Oesterlund, in 1998 when he was running a less-than-successful flower importing business. Fourteen years later, the couple had started multiple wildly successful companies, but their marriage was falling apart. During divorce proceedings, Pursglove was shocked to learn her husband was worth only a few million—or so he claimed—because they owned a $30 million penthouse and a millions-a-year yacht (not to mention all their other homes and yachts).

Pursglove hired two lawyers—one of them a former prosecutor of cocaine smugglers and money launderers—and the trio spent more than two years and millions of dollars getting to the bottom of an "almost impenetrable array of shell companies, bank accounts, and trusts." That includes the couple's holding company that reported a yearly gross of more than $73.5 million but an ordinary business income of less than $13,000. It turns out the couple's businesses were losing millions in bad deals to another company—set up by Ousterland in the Bahamas and amounting to little more than a PO Box. Read the full piece for more details on the system of "offshoring" wealth, where the only goal is to "make the richest people in the world appear to own as little as possible." (Read more offshore tax cheat stories.)

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