On the Cote d’Azur, disturbed by the paradise of Russian billionaires

After the Italians and the Saudis, “demanding and rushing” Russian clients have arrived since 2006 in this wooden cape with idyllic bays, between Nice and Monaco, buying homes for 50 million euros, explains Barbara Benasaya, property manager. Pisani Real Estate Agency.

They “artificially made the market rise, and were willing to overpay for the goods,” adds Benjamin Mundo, president of Century 21 Lafage Transactions.

More so than Cap d’Antibes where oligarch Roman Abramovich had his customs, Cap Ferrat became the most Slavic peninsula in the French Mediterranean, taking advantage of a Russian presence dating back to the time of the Tsar in the 19th century.

The Russians have symbolic properties there, such as the old zoo, which has been turned into an ultra-modern villa, or the Villa Santo Susper, designed by artist Jean Cocteau. Anglo-American billionaire Lynn Blavatnik, who was born in Ukraine when that country was part of the Soviet Union, also owns the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat there.

A discreet Russian presence: In the port, a wine bar with a Russian name, near a giant mansion under construction in the name of the obscure civic real estate company (SCI) Kozak, based in Monaco, a truck from BTP with Cyrillic inscriptions.

Often the owners hide behind shell companies based in the Bahamas or Guernsey and cultivate the art of secrecy.

Nillcott and the Rolling Stones

The name of Alexander Ponomarenko quickly appears on the documents of the La Chaban project, the owner of a property of 15,000 square meters who paid 83.5 million euros in 2008. Three residences are being built there.

There is still more than a year of work left, but “Mr. Ponomarenko’s accounts are frozen, the craftsmen will work on what has already been paid and then the site has to stop,” admits one contractor who requested anonymity. A “big deficit” for him.

The European Union sanctioned Mr. Ponomarenko, who resigned as head of Russia’s largest airport in mid-March, four days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine. It is impossible to know whether this property is part of the thirty already “frozen” Russian properties in France.

Since the seizure in early March near Marseille of a yacht linked to the head of the oil-producing company Rosneft, Igor Sechin, the French authorities are now wary about their pursuit of the oligarch’s assets.

The fear on the Cote d’Azur is that the Russians will no longer be able to pay their employees and settle their bills. If the goods are frozen, they cannot be sold or rented.

200,000 euros / month

“There is a general uncertainty, we do not know the outcome of the conflict, the situation is not favorable,” admits Jean-François Dietrich, mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a town of 1,500 people. Winter when 60% of its 2,074 dwellings are second homes.

“This will have consequences, a lot of things are coming from Russian customers, especially with regard to superyachts. This year we can expect a lot of absent boats.”

In real estate, “wait and see,” says Ms. Bansaya. “In terms of purchases between two and three million, we have a lot of Russians who have nothing to do with it, who are even apologizing for this conflict, but they are having a hard time getting the money out. Some have accounts in Monaco so it’s a little easier.”

“It’s exciting for everyone,” says one craftsman, who asked not to be identified. « Aujourd’hui mon village a perdu son âme, avant il y avait un boucher et un coiffeur autour de moi et maintenant, il n’y a plus que des agences immobilières » en même temps, « faut arrêter de critiquerâce grâce for them “.

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Residents say that the Russians who live here all year round, mostly women and children, keep a low profile, going so far as to hide the Russian flag on their license plates.

Several Ukrainians also have ties to Cap Ferrat, such as Rinat Akhmetov, the country’s richest man and owner of Shakhtar Donetsk football club, who acquired Villa Cedars in 2019 for €200 million.

Arno Alari notes in his boat: “I have been a fisherman here for five generations. 50 years ago, it was not worth anything, today I can not afford to buy and my rent is 1,500 euros. I saw a small three-room apartment overlooking the port for 1.3 million!”.

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