French billionaire Bernard Arnault and Russian oligarch Nikolai Sarkisov are under investigation for alleged money laundering.
It is around their activities in Courchevel, a ski resort in the French Alps. Arnault is the second richest man in the world and is behind the luxury empire LVMH
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 night.
The French Economy Ministry’s financial intelligence unit is leading the investigation, but has yet to determine whether any crimes have been committed, a source close to the probe told the AFP news agency.
French daily Le Monde, citing the Tracfin financial intelligence unit, reported that the 55-year-old Russian billionaire had acquired 14 homes from a single seller in 2018 for 16 million euros ($17 million at current exchange rates) in a complex deal involving companies based in France, Luxembourg and Cyprus.
Although believed to be the buyer, Sarkisov’s name does not appear anywhere on the books of the company that made the purchase.
Tracfin last year stepped up its scrutiny of financial transactions involving Russian investors in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The unit declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
The company, called La Fleche, is believed to have bought three more real estate units from a second company reportedly also owned by Sarkisov.
The sale of the property allowed the Russian to pocket a capital gain of 1.2 million euros, according to the newspaper.
Arnault, who runs the LVMH luxury empire and is the second richest person in the world after Elon Musk according to Forbes, is suspected to have lent €18.3 million to Sarkisov for the deal.
He is then believed to have acquired La Fleche, effectively becoming the owner of the real estate portfolio.
The change of ownership may have been designed “to conceal the exact origin of the funds,” Le Monde quoted a Tracfin document as saying, as well as the identity of the “ultimate beneficiary.”
Investigators believe that Sarkisov earned two million euros from the operation, but do not yet know how much he paid for the loan.
Contacted by AFP, LVMH declined to comment. Arnault’s spokesman declined to comment to Reuters. Sarkisov could not immediately be reached to discuss the situation.
Le Monde, however, quoted a spokesman as saying that the operation had been “carried out with the strictest respect for the law.”
The newspaper also quotes people close to Sarkisov as saying that the capital gain was “only a few hundred thousand euros” and that the Russian had not been personally involved.
Le Monde says that, according to “family tradition,” Arnault has a special connection to 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.