A businesswoman who once managed hellraising rock star Michael Hutchence is fighting a court battle with her own father over a £3million house in Chelsea.
If she loses, Maria-Christina Perez de la Sala says she and her four children could be kicked out of the property where she has lived for almost 25 years.
Until three years ago she shared it with her now estranged husband, former SAS major James Copinger-Symes, whom she is divorcing.
But her fabulously wealthy father Robert Perez de la Sala claims the house is his to sell, and his alone – and has gone to London’s High Court to prove it.
Miss Perez de la Sala, 50, a member of an Australian shipping dynasty worth £500million, learned of his case against her when she was handed an envelope she assumed contained a gift, only to discover it was legal documents.
In response, she says her name is on the title deeds, along with those of her father and mother – and that the money for the house was a gift from her uncle Ernest and that her father has no right to take it from her. She says the house is her family’s ‘principal home’.
Miss Perez de la Sala moved to London in 1995 and for some time was European manager for INXS, the Australian rock band fronted by Hutchence, who was found dead in his hotel room in 1997.
Jonathan Lopian, barrister for her father – who lives in a nine-bedroom waterfront mansion in Sydney – told the High Court that the Chelsea house was bought outright for £300,000 in 1991 after one of his companies stumped up the cash.
Mr Lopian said: ‘It is owned beneficially by my client, out of whose assets the purchase monies came.’
He said Miss Perez de la Sala had signed a trust deed verifying that her father was the true owner.
But he added: ‘She doesn’t admit to signing it, and says that, if she did, her signature was procured by undue influence. Robert is seeking a declaration that his daughter’s share was held on trust for him and that she should transfer her share to the joint name of him and his wife.’
Mr Perez de la Sala also denies his daughter’s suggestion she will have nowhere to live if turfed out of the house, saying she has ‘other homes in which she lives at other times’.
Miss Perez de la Sala’s QC, Mark Warwick, said that she denies not only that her father owns the whole house, but also his claim that he paid for it – instead saying that the money came from her uncle Ernest.
Mr Warwick referred to a letter sent by Ernest to Robert in 1993, referring to a £350,000 loan made to purchase the property. It said: ‘I have decided to tidy up my financial affairs and accordingly wish to make you, Terrill [Robert’s wife] and Christina a gift of this loan.’
The case will return to court at a later date. Miss Perez de la Sala declined to comment. But a friend said: ‘Her parents took against her after she decided to divorce.’
She married Mr Copinger-Symes in 1998. Both later trained in business and helped manage the family companies and investments.
Ironically, Miss Perez de la Sala, her father and her estranged husband are all on the same side in another court battle over claims that Ernest transferred a huge chunk of the family companies’ fortune to his personal accounts.