The penniless divorced businessman and the gold bars

By James Brewster, November 18, 2010

The mysterious disappearance of three solid gold bars is at the centre of a divorce battle in which a businessman claims he has been left all but penniless - while his ex-wife lives in a £2.5m mansion.

In a tale of family money which goes back to the Holocaust, Peter Brandon, 67, says the bars were for years simply "lying around" the 11-bedroom Buckinghamshire home he once shared with his ex-wife Christina - and that "anyone may have picked them up".

But Mrs Brandon, 62, who still lives at at the home near High Wycombe, insists her ex-husband has the bullion and that the bars' disappearance is all part of his attempt to "deliberately conceal" from her the true value of his wealth.

Mr Brandon says the bars were a "traditional family keepsake or safety net" against hard times and denies they are part of a "secret fund" he has tried to hide from his ex-wife.

And he argues that the £2.4m divorce payout she was awarded by a judge earlier this year has left her living in a house far too big for her - while he has just £2,000 a month to live on.

His barrister, Michael Bailey, said the story of the family fortune went back to the late 1930s when Mr Brandon's Jewish grandfather, the owner of a successful packaging business in Vienna, fled his homeland and had all his assets seized by the Nazis.

The family's wealth was restored to them after the war and Mr Brandon's father established a paper and plastic bag company in the UK which was sold for £7m in 1986. Of the £4m left after tax, £2m went to Mr Brandon and the rest into a family trust.

His ex-wife argued he had very substantial assets in Switzerland and Austria, as well as a property portfolio and trust assets in the UK.

And, in July this year, Mr Justice Ryder ordered him to give her the keys to Nanfans Grange, along with other properties and an £800,000 lump sum.

However, Mr Brandon - who has six adult children and separated from his wife in 2006 after a 36-year marriage - is now challenging the ruling at the Appeal Court, insisting that the judge was wrong to find he tried to conceal a "secret fund", worth up to £2m, from his ex-wife.

Mr Bailey said the payout to Mrs Brandon amounted to over 100% of the "identifiable" marital assets and her ex-husband, who has since remarried, is now so poor he cannot afford even to pay his own lawyers.

There is not a shred of evidence that Mr Brandon has "secreted away" the gold bars, said the barrister, who added: "They were lying around the former matrimonial home and anyone may have picked them up".

Mr Brandon's bid to challenge the divorce payout will now be heard by the full Appeal Court on a date which has yet to be fixed. His ex-wife is likely to be represented at that hearing.

Last updated: 10:58am, November 18 2010