Dame Zaha Hadid was never far from controversy in her life, nor has she been since her death. In the four years since the celebrated Iraqi-born architect died suddenly in March 2016, there has been a “toxic dispute” between the executors of her estate, with claims and counterclaims filed about the interpretation of her wishes and the future of its architecture. practice. The long-standing dispute was ultimately resolved in an explosive court hearing involving contested allegations of financial mismanagement, disregard for corporate governance, and “clandestine relationships” between the current practice director and younger staff members.
In a remote hearing conducted via Skype, the court was told that after years of negotiations, the four executors of Hadid’s will had finally reached an agreement on the distribution of her estate, which is now valued at around £ 100 million, save one detail. . The deal will see the bulk of Hadid’s assets go to the Zaha Hadid Foundation, a charitable body, with plans to establish a museum and award scholarships, focused on supporting the architectural education of Arab women in particular.
Meanwhile, the shares in the architectural practice, Zaha Hadid Ltd (ZHL), will be transferred to a tax-efficient employee benefits trust, chaired by his long-term associate and head of the practice, Patrik Schumacher. But the executors remained at a standstill over one point in the trust’s board structure, which was turned over to the court for decision.
In court filings, Schumacher, who is also the executor of Hadid’s estate, insisted that he be granted personal veto powers over the company’s board of directors. His lawyer argued that such a move was in line with Hadid’s instructions in his letter of wishes, that he should “have control of the business” to the extent possible. The other three executors, including stained glass artist Brian Clarke, Hadid’s niece Rana Hadid, and real estate developer Peter Palumbo, vigorously resisted this request, claiming that Schumacher had a history of abuse of veto power, had not distinguished conflicts of interest and there was a “lack of commitment to the basic principles of corporate governance”.
In their submissions, the defendants sought to rely on two convicting reports from independent legal investigations that were highly critical of Schumacher’s behavior. One focused on corporate governance issues, while the second focused on allegations of his inappropriate relationships with junior staff. Both were motivated by complaints of irregularities.
According to filings, the previous report, prepared in 2019, identified “numerous corporate governance failures” at ZHL, highlighting Schumacher’s record of abusing veto power and his inability to distinguish between his own interests and the interests of those to whom should. fiduciary duties. Schumacher also vetoed payment of legal fees incurred for the investigation, the court was told.
The defendants also referred to a second report, drawn up this year, which found that Schumacher had sought sexual relations with several junior staff members, and said there was a case to reply that he had “used his position to push for pay increases. significant, promotions and educational opportunities for staff with whom you have a romantic relationship that are not based on merit and exceed what others receive ”.
In their filing, the trustees stated that Schumacher attempted to veto the investigation and refused to cooperate with it, “making it impossible for ZHL to adequately investigate his alleged wrongdoing.” It is understood that you have a relationship with one of the junior staff in question, with whom you have a child.
Schumacher’s attorney argued that the court “should not take the route of considering and determining all the factual disputes that have arisen in this process,” describing the allegations presented by the defense as “controversial and unproven.”
In the middle of the one-day hearing to “bless” the deal, the presiding judge, head teacher Matthew Marsh, ruled against Schumacher’s veto request. The judge concluded that Schumacher “would be in a very difficult position regarding conflicts of interest” if such powers were granted. Visibly sore from witnessing years of costly fights, Marsh described the disagreement as a “toxic dispute,” adding that Hadid “did not want this dispute, which is the real tragedy.” All legal costs, which amount to several million pounds, will be taken from Hadid’s estate.
The judge stated that he reached his conclusion on the basis of an “objective review of the charge”, without needing to consider what he described as “highly contentious evidence” that “could give rise to real concerns” if considered. He suggested that the defendants were “very close to saying that [Schumacher] he is not in a position to assume any fiduciary position ”. If that were the case, “how could such a person be a director?” I ask. In its ruling, it emphasized that it did not express “any opinion on that evidence” and did not make “findings of fact regarding it.”
The hearing exposed the dramatically frozen nature of the dispute between the trustees, which has escalated bitterly over the years since Hadid’s death. The divisions between Schumacher and his fellow executors were first revealed when the outspoken libertarian architect made headlines in November 2016, when he publicly called for the abolition of social housing and the privatization of cities, arguing that developers should be able to build. in Hyde Park.
The state-funded art schools, he added, were “an indefensible anachronism.” The other three executors were quick to distance themselves from his comments. “Knowing Dame Zaha as well as we do,” they said in a statement, “we can categorically affirm that she would have totally opposed these views and disassociated herself from them. Personally, we also strongly disagree with these views. “
Schumacher issued legal proceedings in November 2018 in an attempt to become sole executor of Hadid’s estate, seeking to eliminate Clarke, Hadid and Palumbo. He alleged that the three acted “with unwarranted hostility” towards him and “undermined ZHL’s ability to continue as a going concern.” They said their joint statement had “cast doubt on [his] ability to run ZHL in accordance with the principles adopted during Hadid’s lifetime ”.
He also claimed that they prevented him from speaking at Hadid’s funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral and ensured that he was not invited to a memorial dinner at the Serpentine Gallery, allegations that the trustees have denied. A trial was scheduled for September 2019, but was postponed when the parties reached terms for that month. It has been a year since then for the terms of the settlement agreement to be resolved.
The content of Hadid’s estate includes thousands of architectural paintings, sketches and models, which have finally been cataloged by the foundation following delays caused by trustees’ disagreements, as well as several valuable properties in Miami and London. The main monetary value transferred to the foundation came from the shares of several Hadid companies, including the product design division Zaha Hadid Design, the value of which has increased significantly since Hadid’s death, mainly due to a lucrative contract with the jewelry brand. Bulgari for the design of a ring that sells for £ 2,200.
Schumacher did not respond to a request for additional comment, but Zaha Hadid Architects, for whom he is Principal Director, issued the following statement: “Zaha Hadid Architects is shocked by the baseless allegations being made against Patrik Schumacher. The allegations are unproven, controversial, and must be viewed in the context of a long-standing and bitter dispute between the trustees of Zaha’s estate. Patrik began working with Zaha Hadid in 1988 and their nearly 30-year collaboration is the foundation of our success. Under his leadership, we continue to build on the legacy that Zaha and Patrik established together for nearly three decades. ”
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