On the Côte d’Azur, Russian malaise in a paradise for billionaires – 04/08/2022 at 17:01

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

On the very secret Cap Ferrat, a paradise peninsula on the Côte d’Azur popular with Russian billionaires, the first difficulties are felt under the effect of sanctions linked to the war in Ukraine.

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 to the AFP Barbara Benassaya director of 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, at the head of ten real estate agencies.

More than Cap d’Antibes where the oligarch Roman Abramovich had 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.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's yacht, L'Eclipse, arrives in the bay of Nice on September 4, 2013 ( AFP / Valery HACHE )

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s yacht, L’Eclipse, arrives in the bay of Nice on September 4, 2013 ( AFP / Valery HACHE )

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.

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 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 in mid-March from the presidency of Russia’s largest airport, was sanctioned by the European Union four days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, for his “close links with other oligarchs associated with Vladimir Putin”, the Russian president.

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

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.

The reception lounge of the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, in May 2011 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP / Valery HACHE)

The reception lounge of the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, in May 2011 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (AFP / Valery HACHE)

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.

The names of several oligarchs are well known at Cap Ferrat: the Rotenberg family at Villa Shoshana, whose father Arkadi, considered with his brother as very close to the Russian president, is under American sanctions.

The Nellcote villa belongs to an SCI on which appear the names of the owner of the Russian steelmaker of Magnitogorsk (MMK) Viktor Rachnikov, “influential oligarch” according to the EU which sanctioned him, and that of his daughter Olga to whom he made a gift.

The shutters of this neo-classical mansion, where the Rolling Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street” in 1970, are closed.

No one answers PC Security. But the watering works, the planters are overflowing with flowers. Is it frozen by France? What will happen there this summer?

– 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 in winter. where 60% of the 2,074 dwellings are second homes.

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

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

“This will have consequences, a lot of things come from the Russian clientele, especially in terms of yachting. This year we can expect a lot of absent boats”, he adds even if the local economy does not is not “mono-customer”.

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.”

For the moment, the cancellations are linked especially on the rental “large villas at 200,000 euros per month”, she notes.

At SPG Security, which employs up to 40 people in season and whose logo is omnipresent on the gates lined with cameras, “payments are quarterly or annual”, so too early to feel the effect of the sanctions.

“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.

The villa "The Cedars"acquired by a Ukrainian, on August 19, 2016 in Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat ( AFP / JEAN CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET )

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

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.

“All the clichés that can revolve around the Russian who made his fortune in the 2000s and spent his life in Courchevel (Alps), Saint-Tropez, it created a lot of amalgams between Russian businessmen and oligarchs close to the power”, regrets Edouard Deschepper, who is leading the transformation project of the five-star hotel La Voile d’Or for the Russian promoter Kirill Pissarev, via the investment fund Wainbridge Estate.

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

The demolition-reconstruction of the once family establishment has still not begun. Mr. Deschepper mentions technical problems.

The luxury hotel "The Golden Sail"being transformed for a Russian promoter based in London, on March 29, 2022 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat ( AFP / Valery HACHE )

The luxury hotel “La voile d’or”, being transformed for a Russian promoter based in London, on March 29, 2022 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat ( AFP / Valery HACHE )

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 cannot afford to buy and I have a rent of 1,500 euros. I saw a small three-piece leaving above the port at 1.3 million!”.

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

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