The billionaire owner of Victoria’s Secret is at the centre of a High Court legal battle with auction house Bonhams over an £11m Ferrari he bought.
Lingerie mogul Les Wexner, who is chairman and CEO of Ohio-based L Brands, purchased the 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus last year at the Goodward Festival of Speed in the UK, making it the most expensive road-legal car in England at the time.
But it later emerged that the ownership of the car has been in dispute since 1997, when a previous owner of the vehicle laid claim to it more than a decade after it was stolen.
According to press reports, Bonhams believed the row had been settled but Wexner, who is the longest-serving CEO of a Fortune 500 company having run the business for more than 50 years, is demanding a refund and damages.
However, London’s High Court must first decide who the car belongs to.
The car’s first owner was Karl Kleve, of Ohio, who paid $2,500 for it back in 1958, but it was stolen in the 80s and ended up in Belgium. There, it was sold in a good-faith purchase by L’Exception Automobile to Jack Swaters and his business partner Phillipe Lancksweert.
In 1999, the pair ended up paying Mr Kleve $650,000 in a settlement through his lawyer after he claimed he was the rightful owner. But before passing away in 2003 Mr Kleve said his lawyer did not have the authority to reach the settlement. His daughter claims she is the owner.
Earlier this week, Joseph Ford, who claims to own a percentage of the car bought from Mr Kleve’s daughter, told the High Court that documents submitted on behalf of Mr Swaters and Mr Lancksweert had “cut corners” by not establishing whether Mr Kleve’s lawyer had the power to make the settlement.
Bonhams thought the matter had reached a conclusion two years ago after it brought the parties together and signed an agreement designed to extinguish all claims and counterclaims.
Mr Wexner argues that he was sold the car fraudulently or recklessly, but the auction house opposes the claim. The hearing continues.
Wexner is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of L Brands and Stuart Burgdoerfer is chief financial officer.
Wexner opened his first store, The Limited, in Columbus, Ohio, in 1963. Today it is an international company with annual sales of $11.5 billion and employs nearly 100,000 people.