On the Cote d’Azur, Russian distress in a billionaire’s paradise – 04/08/2022 at 08:24


The luxury La Voile d’Or hotel, converted by a London-based Russian developer, on March 29, 2022 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP/Valery HACHE)

In the top-secret Cap Ferrat, the paradise peninsula of the Cote d’Azur famous for Russian billionaires, the first difficulties emerge under the influence of sanctions related to the war in Ukraine.

After the Italians and the Saudis, Russian agents, “demanders and rushers”, have arrived since 2006 in this wooden cape with idyllic bays, between Nice and Monaco, and bought homes for 50 million euros, explains Barbara Benasaya, director of AFP. Real estate agency Pisani Real Estate.

Benjamin Mundo, president of Century 21 Lafage Transactions, at the head of ten real estate agencies, adds that they “artificially made the market rise, and were willing to overpay for goods.”

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 of Russian descent, Lyn Blavatnik, also owns the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat there.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's yacht, Leclips, arrives in the Gulf of Nice on September 4, 2013. (AFP/Valery HACHE)

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s yacht, Leclips, arrives in the Gulf of Nice on September 4, 2013. (AFP/Valery HACHE)

Secret Presence: On the harbor, a wine bar with a Russian name, near a giant mansion under construction in the name of a mysterious Monaco-based civic real estate company (SCI) Kozak, a truck from a construction company 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.

The Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, on May 6, 2011 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP / Valery HACHE)

The Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, on May 6, 2011 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP / Valery HACHE)

There was 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 be discontinued,” admits one contractor who requested anonymity. A “big deficiency” for him.

Mr. Ponomarenko, who in mid-March resigned as head of Russia’s largest airport, was sanctioned by the European Union four days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, for his “close connections with another oligarch linked to Vladimir Putin,” the Russian president.

It is impossible to know if this property is part of the thirty or so Russian properties already “frozen” in France. The Ministry of Economy, contacted by AFP, did not give details.

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

The reception hall of the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, in May 2011 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP / Valérie Hach)

The reception hall of the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, in May 2011 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP / Valérie Hach)

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.

The names of many oligarchs are well known in Cap Ferrat: the Rotenberg family of Villa Shoshana, whose father Arkady with his brother is considered very close to the Russian president, is subject to US sanctions.

Villa Nellcote belongs to SCI which shows the names of the owner of Russian Magnitogorsk steelmaker (MMK) Viktor Rachnikov, the “influential oligarch” according to the EU who punished him, and the names of his daughter Olga for whom he made a free gift.

The doors to this neoclassical mansion are closed, as the Rolling Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street” in 1970.

Nobody answers about PC security. But the irrigation is working, the farmers are overflowing with flowers. Did France freeze it? What will happen there this summer?

– 200,000 euros / month –

“There is uncertainty in general, we do not know the outcome of the conflict, and the situation is unfavorable,” admits Jean-François Dietrich, mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat, a town of 1,500 people in winter. Where 60% of the 2,074 residences are second homes.

The Amore Vero yacht belonging to a company linked to the head of the Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Setchine, was seized by France on March 3, 2022 in La Ciotat (AFP / NICOLAS TUCAT)

The Amore Vero yacht belonging to a company linked to the head of the Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Setchine, was seized by France on March 3, 2022 in La Ciotat (AFP / NICOLAS TUCAT)

“This will have consequences, a lot of things come from Russian customers, especially with regard to yachts. This year we can expect a lot of absent boats,” he adds, adding even if the local economy is not a “single customer”.

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 of them have accounts in Monaco, so it’s a little easier.”

For now, the cancellations are specifically related to the rental of “large villas at €200,000 per month,” she notes.

At SPG Security, which employs up to 40 people per season and whose slogan is ubiquitous on camera-lined gates, “Payments are quarterly or annually,” so it’s too early to feel the impact of the penalties.

“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 critiquerâ on bouffe for them”.

– amalgam –

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.

the villa

Villa “Les Cèdres”, acquired by the Ukrainian on August 19, 2016 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP / JEAN CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET)

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.

“All the cliches that can revolve around the Russian who made his fortune in the 2000s and spent his life in Courchevel (Alps), Saint-Tropez, created a lot of mergers between Russian businessmen and oligarchs close to power,” laments Edward Deschipper, who He is leading the transformation project at the five-star hotel La Voile d’Or by Russian promoter Kirill Pissarev, via Wainbridge Estate Investment Trust.

“As soon as we see Russian in an application for a loan or opening a bank account, we are answered kindly + no + without explanation,” he says, explaining that his boss lives in London and has moved his fortune out of London. Russia .

The process of demolishing and rebuilding the family institution has not yet begun. Mr. Deschepper mentions technical problems.

luxury hotel

La voile d’or luxury hotel converted into a London-based Russian promoter, on March 29, 2022 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP/Valery HACHE)

Arnaud 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 it and I have a rent of 1,500 euros. I saw three – a piece left over the port at 1.3 million!”.

Without the Russians, fishing would be easier in the bay this summer: “There are sometimes 80 yachts here and I have to go fishing farther and farther,” but he adds, requests for crabs will drop.

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