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

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


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

They “artificially pushed the market up, they were willing to overpay the goods,” adds Benjamin Mondou, president of Century 21 Lafage Transactions.

More than Cape Antibes where the oligarch Roman Abramovich has his habits, Cape 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 iconic properties such as the old zoo, transformed into a state-of-the-art villa, or the Villa Santo Sospir, decorated by the artist Jean Cocteau. Anglo-American billionaire Len Blavatnik, who was born in Ukraine when he was a member of the Soviet Union, also owns the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat.

A discreet Russian presence: in 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 of a company of the BTP with inscriptions in Cyrillic.

Homeowners often hide behind screen companies based in the Bahamas or Guernsey and cultivate the art of secrecy.

Nellcote and the Rolling Stones

Alexandre Ponomarenko’s name quickly appears on the documents of the SCI La Chabanne Project, which owns a 15,000 million euro estate that paid 83.5 million euros in 2008. Three houses are being built there.

There was more than a year of work left but “Mr. Ponomarenko’s accounts are frozen, the artisans will work on what has already been paid and then the work should stop,” admits one of the contractors who requested the work. ‘anonymity. A “significant shortfall” for him.

Mr Ponomarenko, who resigned as president of Russia’s largest airport in mid-March, has been sanctioned by the European Union four days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine. It is impossible to know whether this property is part of the thirty or so 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 Setchine, the French authorities have now been 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, pay their bills. If the goods are frozen, they can no longer be sold or rented.

200,000 euros / month

“It’s a widespread uncertainty, we don’t know the outcome of the conflict, the situation is not favorable,” said Jean-François Dieterich, mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a town of 1,500 inhabitants. winter where 60% of the 2,074 dwellings are second homes.

“It simply came to our notice then. This year we are expecting a lot of absent boats. ”

In real estate, it’s “wait-and-see,” according to Ms. Benassaya. “On purchases between two and three million, there are a lot of Russians who are not there for nothing, who even apologize 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 dramatic for everyone,” says one craftsman, who requires 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 must stop criticizing: we eat thanks to them ”.

Amalgams

Russians living here all year round, especially women and children, are discreet, even hiding the Russian flag on their license plates, residents say.

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

In his boat, Arnaud Allary observes, fatalistically: “I have been a fisherman here for five generations. 50 years ago it was worthless, today I can’t afford to buy it and I have a rent of 1,500 euros. I saw a small three-piece go over the harbor at 1.3 million! ».

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