Hidden Russian oligarchs? How the owners of the opulent villas of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat hide behind opaque financial schemes
It is a little piece of paradise that stands proudly in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea: 248 hectares divided into just 1,605 cadastral plots. In comparison, Nice has almost 43,000. But Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat has no intention of competing with the capital of the Riviera, at least not on this ground.
The former fishing village, which has the most expensive price per square meter in France, has become the peninsula of billionaires in recent decades. Several of the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the European Union today have made it their Eden. Viktor Rachnikov, Alexander Ponomarenko, Arkady Rotenberg… Others maybe.
behind the scenes of ultra-luxury opaque
It’s hard to say for sure. The backstage of this ultra-luxury real estate market is so opaque. By examining the approximately 1,600 land units of the billionaires’ peninsula, we discover an astonishing game of matryoshkasthese Russian dolls that fit together almost endlessly: a legal pile-up whose sole purpose seems to be to hide the real owner of these exceptional villas.
When we put aside the land reserves of the municipality, the state around the semaphore or even EDF, we identified 590 cadastral plots that were managed not by private individuals, but by companies. Or 37% of this administrative puzzle. And since every plot is not equal, on the surface it is actually more than two thirds of the municipality that has been acquired through often complex legal constructions.
By searching the statutes of these civil real estate companies, we find that the shares of these real estate companies are themselves held by a second registered entity, this time in Monaco or Luxembourg, in most cases. The administrative millefeuille doesn’t always stop at these neighbors with the highly protective business secret legislation. It’s not uncommon for a more “exotic” third curtain of society to cloud the tracks in Panama, the Isle of Man, Cyprus, or the Seychelles a little more.
“White” divorce and bearer shares
This is undoubtedly why the freeze on Russian assets, announced the day after the invasion of Ukraine, promises to be more complicated than it seems a month later. In the context of the Kerimov affair, the researchers of the Côte d’Azur had already come across these opaque agreements. Getting back to this senator who was on the council of the Russian Federation, they had to go through requests for international cooperation in Gibraltar and Switzerland. Again, the wealthy Souleyman Keriman suspected of being the real owner of the villa Yesterday, on Cap d’Antibes, appeared only as a tenant.
“Another very widespread technique among Russians to cover their tracks, entrusts a broker from the coast on condition of anonymity, is the real false divorce. Many of these oligarchs put their property in the name of their children or their wives. “Or rather their ex-wife. These divorces that are documented in the courts in Russia are often just white divorces to prevent us from grabbing them in case of a problem.”
“Sometimes there are even, warm in a vault, bearer securities that just need to be dated, a detective assures us. If you get too close, the property will be transferred to a trusted third party in no time. And that’s the!” A bad trick for the French authorities who have promised to take over the villas and yachts of Putin’s relatives. For the time being, Bercy refuses to draw up the list of frozen Russian assets. Bruno Le Maire simply mentioned a total amount of frozen assets of 850 million euros. Enough to make our luxury real estate professional smile, recalling that a few years ago one of these oligarchs was willing to pay half a billion euros to pay the Leopolda in Villefranche.
2,250 euros, the amazing price of a villa in Cap Ferrat!
To gauge the magnitude of this large-scale land cover, it is enough to dive into the murky waters of these companies’ statutes. That of the SCI “Mas de Quinson” for example. This entity has a beautiful villa in the heart of Pointe Saint-Hospice to its name. It bought it in 2012 from another company called Navad and based in Luxembourg. However, the SCI “Mas de Quinson” is 99% owned by the company Navad.
The transferor is none other than the acquirer… And it is also the seller who has advanced the purchase price! Still a little over 15 million euros. Two years later, another 6 million will be added to finance the work. Here, too, it is the Luxembourg company that pulls out the checkbook. In the meantime, the villa in Cap Ferrat has been let to the C. spouses without the amount of the rent being disclosed. In any case, it was not used to repay the purchase of this house as a few years later the SCI “Mas de Quinson” still has a debt of more than 18 M€ with the Luxembourg company Navad.
This is when a new trade takes place. For the benefit of Miss C., who is at least twenty years younger than the former tenants, but strangely enough bears the same last name. Since the SCI has not repaid its debts, the sale price of this villa in Cap Ferrat is set at… 2,250 euros! The transfer fees should not have been too high. You could imagine that C.’s husbands gave their house to their own daughter for little money. At least that seems to show between the lines, but proving is a completely different matter.