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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Couple's Divorce Fight Clouds Clearwater Deal

Divorce and alimony hearings in a U.S. court have cast a shadow over Nestle's most recent acquisition on the domestic water market.

The estranged wife of Scott Nicol, an American who founded the Clearwater bottled water business in 1991, wants the deal to sell the company to Nestle annulled and the right to half Clearwater's shares as part of hearings that began Thursday.

In February this year Nicol sold the business to Nestle Waters for a reported $50 million.

The couple parted ways last fall after a decade of marriage, during which period Nicol's wife Maya Kucherkova, a former golf star, held the position of general director at the company.

Kucherkova's lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, said Nicol received more than $50 million from the Nestle deal while his wife, who lives in Pennsylvania, was left with a house in Krasnogorsk worth $800,000 and a Toyota.

Preliminary hearings were due to start Thursday at 3 p.m. in a Pennsylvania state court.

Dobrovinsky said it had yet to be decided whether or not Nestle would be called to testify in the case.

"Our client is asking for the return of 50 percent of the shares that were sold without her consent and the division of property throughout the world, including real estate. She also wants custody of the children," Dobrovinsky said Thursday.

Kucherkova is demanding half the shares of Clearwater's Hungarian and Ukrainian operations, which still belong to Nicol. The total value of the suit is between $35 million and $40 million, Dobrovinsky said.

Nicol's lawyer, Natalya Rozhkova, called Kucherkova's demands unreasonable. "Nicol founded the company Clearwater with his own funds two years before marrying Maya. Therefore the plaintiff's demands regarding the return of a share in Clearwater are ungrounded," she said.

Dobrovinsky countered that during the marriage the value of the company increased many times and that this growth should be considered jointly earned property.

Independent lawyers said Kucherkova had a good chance of victory.

U.S. courts are normally well-disposed to such suits and mothers typically have a high chance of retaining their children as well as a part of the earned property, said Curtis Masters, a partner with the Baker & McKenzie law firm, adding that he doubted the Nestle deal would be annulled.

"I don't have the important details, but I doubt it will go as far as the deal being reconsidered -- that hardly ever happens in the United States," Masters said.

But Dobrovinsky said Nestle had not requested the necessary consent from Kucherkova.

Nestle Waters' lawyer, Natalya Nikitina of White & Case, said her client first learned of the dispute from Kucherkova's lawyers after the deal was signed. Nikitina said the divorce hearings involved only the couple and declined to comment.