Europe’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, 74, is under investigation for money laundering in France following a “ski resort real estate transaction” linked to the Russian billionaire oligarch Nikolai Sarkisov.
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French billionaire Bernard Arnault and Russian oligarch Nikolai Sarkisov are under investigation for alleged money laundering at a luxury Alpine resort, according to Paris prosecutors.
The investigation concerns their activities in Courchevel, a ski resort in the French Alps known as a playground for the ultra-rich, they said Thursday evening.
The financial intelligence unit of the French Ministry of the Economy is leading the investigation, but has not yet determined whether a crime had been committed, a source close to the investigation told AFP. It is understood they deny any wrongdoing.
French daily Le Monde, citing financial intelligence unit Tracfin, reported that the 55-year-old Russian billionaire acquired 14 homes from a single seller in 2018 for 16 million euros ($17 million at current rates). as part of a complex transaction involving companies based in France, Luxembourg and Cyprus.
Although he is considered the buyer, Sarkissov’s name does not appear anywhere in the books of the company that made the purchase.
LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault and his wife Hélène Mercier arrive for a state dinner in honor of King Charles III of England at the Palace of Versailles earlier this month.
The investigation concerns activities in Courchevel, a ski resort in the French Alps known as a playground for the ultra-rich
The company, called La Flèche, is said to have purchased three other real estate units from a second company that is also believed to be owned by Sarkissov.
The alleged sale of the property to a company he owns would have allowed the Russian to pocket a capital gain of 1.2 million euros, according to the newspaper.
Arnault – who heads the LVMH luxury empire and is the second richest person in the world after Elon Musk according to Forbes – said he loaned Sarkisov 18.3 million euros for the operation.
He would then have acquired La Flèche, thus becoming owner of the real estate portfolio.
The change of ownership could have been intended “to hide the exact origin of the funds”, according to Le Monde, citing a Tracfin document, as well as the identity of the “final beneficiary”.
Investigators estimate that Sarkissov earned two million euros from the operation, but they still do not know how much he paid for the loan.
Contacted by AFP, LVMH refused to comment.
Le Monde, however, quoted a spokesperson as saying that the operation had been “carried out in strict compliance with the law”.
The newspaper also cites sources close to Sarkissov who claim that the capital gain only amounts to “a few hundred thousand euros” and that the Russian is not personally involved.
According to Le Monde, according to a “family history”, Arnault has a special link with Courchevel because he learned to ski there as a child and where he owns a mansion and a luxury hotel.
Hotel prices in the resort can reach several tens of thousands of euros per night, the newspaper notes.