On the Côte d’Azur, discomfort in the paradise of Russian billionaires

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After the Italians and the Saudis, the Russian clientele, “demanding and in a hurry”, arrived from 2006 in this wooded cape with idyllic coves, between Nice and Monaco, buying houses at 50 million euros, explains Barbara Benassaya director from the real estate agency Pisani Real Estate.

They “made the market artificially rise, they were ready to overpay for the goods,” adds Benjamin Mondou, president of Century 21 Lafage Transactions.

More than the Cap d’Antibes where the oligarch Roman Abramovich has his habits, Cap Ferrat has become the most Slavic peninsula in the French Mediterranean, capitalizing on a Russian presence dating back to the time of the tsars in the 19th century.

The Russians own emblematic properties there, such as the old zoo, transformed into an ultra-modern villa, or the Santo Sospir villa, decorated by the artist Jean Cocteau. The Anglo-American billionaire Len Blavatnik, born in Ukraine when this country was part of the Soviet Union, also owns the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat there.

A discreet Russian presence: on the port, a wine bar with a Russian name, near a titanic palace under construction in the name of a mysterious civil real estate company (SCI) Kozak, domiciled in Monaco, a truck from a BTP with inscriptions in Cyrillic.

The owners often hide behind shell companies domiciled in the Bahamas or Guernsey and cultivate the art of secrecy.

Nellcote and the Rolling Stones

The name of Alexandre Ponomarenko quickly appears on the documents of the SCI La Chabanne Project, owner of a 15,000 m² estate paid 83.5 million euros in 2008. Three residences are being built there.

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 for and then the site should stop”, recognizes one of the contractors who requested the ‘anonymity. A “significant shortfall” for him.

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

Since the seizure in early March near Marseille of a yacht linked to the boss of the oil producer Rosneft, Igor Setchin, the French authorities are now discreet about their pursuit of the assets of the oligarchs.

On the Côte d’Azur, the fear is that the Russians will no longer be able to pay their employees, settle their bills. If the goods are frozen, they can no longer be sold or rented.

200,000 euros/month

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

“This will have consequences, a lot of things come from the Russian clientele, especially in terms of super yachts. This year we can expect a lot of absent boats”.

In real estate, it’s “wait-and-see”, according to Ms. Benassaya. “On purchases between two and three million, we have a lot of Russians who have nothing to do with it, who even apologize for this conflict, but they have trouble getting the money out. Some have accounts in Monaco so it’s a little easier”.

“It’s dramatic for everyone,” says a craftsman, who requests anonymity. “Today my village has lost its soul, before there was a butcher and a hairdresser around me and now there are only real estate agencies” at the same time, “we have to stop criticizing: we eat thanks their “.

Amalgams

Russians living here year-round, mostly women and children, keep a low profile, going so far as to hide the Russian flag on their license plates, residents report.

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

In his boat, Arnaud Allary observes, fatalistic: “I have been a fisherman here for five generations. 50 years ago it was worth nothing, today I can’t afford to buy and my rent is 1,500 euros. I saw a small three-room apartment set off above the port at 1.3 million! “.

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