Russian oligarchs flocked to the Bay of Billionaires and Cap d’Antibes. Now their French Riviera mansions are in the sanctions spotlight

March 28, 2022, 9:44 AM UTC

The opulent mansions of Russian billionaires in Londongrad have already felt the sanctions blow. But farther south from the U.K. capital, in a coastal corner of the French Mediterranean, wealthy tycoons have also purchased sea-view real estate over the years.

Tucked away behind high walls and tall trees, the palatial residences might be a less visible display of wealth than the billionaires’ yachts that have been impounded in European ports. Still, the French government — which has set up a task force to scrutinize all relevant financial assets — says it has frozen more than half a billion euros’ worth of real estate in France, including some 30 properties.

The Cap d’Antibes, a peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean east of Cannes, and the nearby so-called Bay of Billionaires form an enclave that first gained its exclusive reputation decades ago as a hot spot for rock stars and royals, bankers and barons of industry.

Rich Russians started settling in there and in nearby Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now several of them have been sanctioned by the EU, freezing bank accounts and other assets owned by the targeted individual. As a result, underlying property holdings can no longer be sold, mortgaged or rented out.

Here are French Riviera estates tied to people sanctioned by the European Union, based on publicly available property data, court rulings and previous news reports. 

Château de la Croë

The 26,000 square-foot château with a rooftop pool sits isolated at the tip of the Cap d’Antibes on a 18-acre property and was purchased by Roman Abramovich about two decades ago. Built in the late 1920s for a newspaper magnate, the Victorian-style mansion was previously the residence of several crowned heads. King Edward VIII moved in just after he controversially abdicated in 1937 to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. The château was then owned in the 1950s by billionaire Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and later by his lifelong rival, Stavros Niarchos. A fire destroyed part of the property in the 1970s, and it remained abandoned for decades until Abramovich swooped in and spent more than €150 million on renovations over the years.

Ownership: Abramovich has never made a secret of owning the château, which is also confirmed by a legal dispute between him and French tax authorities. Abramovich declined to comment.

Villa Hier in the cap d’Antibes was allegedly purchased by Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov using the name of another individual.
YANN COATSALIOU-AFP via Getty Images

Villa Hier

Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov has been linked to the high-end property on Cap d’Antibes. The mansion includes a tennis court and giant oval outdoor pool, overlooked by an elongated greenhouse. French authorities have said the property was acquired for €127 million in 2008.

Ownership: Kerimov was charged in 2017 over suspicions that he used figureheads to acquire several Riviera properties, including Villa Hier; he denied wrongdoing and the charges were overturned a year later in a major setback for French prosecutors, who say the case is still ongoing. Kerimov’s French lawyers didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Villa Altaïr

Commodities tycoon Andrey Melnichenko made quite the splash in 2005 at his wedding  at Villa Altaïr, with live performances by Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera, according to Forbes. The founder and controlling shareholder of EuroChem is listed as the 100% beneficiary owner of the company that holds the property. Melnichenko is also know for having two superyachts designed by Philippe Starck. One — the largest sailing yacht in the world — has been seized by Italian authorities in Trieste, while the other is currently close to the Seychelles.

Ownership: According to France’s registry of beneficiary owners, Melnichenko is listed as holding 100% of the shares of the company that was used to buy the property, though when contacted he said he doesn’t personally own the villa.

La Chabanne and Lusetto

Alexander Ponomarenko acquired these two side-by-side villas in 2008 for €83.5 million before undertaking extensive renovation work.  A collection of buildings, the property sits on 4 acres of land with direct sea view.  La Chabanne was kitted out with a new pool and underground parking during the refit that took several years.

Ownership: Ponomarenko acquired 70% of the property in his own name, but France’s registry of beneficiary owners now lists the mother of his children as holding 95% of the company that owns the real estate. Ponomarenko didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.

Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones with his son Marlon at Villa Nellcote, when the Rolling Stones recorded their seminal Exile On Main St. album in the 1970s.
Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Villa Nellcôte

The residence acquired mythical status when the Rolling Stones recorded their seminal Exile On Main St. album there in the 1970s, long before steel tycoon Victor Rashnikov set his sights on the plot. The chairman of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works reportedly acquired the Belle Epoque mansion — located in a town adjacent to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat — in 2007 for €83 million.

Ownership: Rashnikov is listed as holding 1% of the shares of the company he set up to buy the property, according to filings; in 2012 he made a donation to his daughter Olga, who is currently listed as holding 94% of the shares, according to France’s registry of beneficiary owners. Rashnikov didn’t return calls and messages seeking comment.

La Petite Ourse

Less frequently cited as a vacationing hot spot for rich Russians, glamorous Saint-Tropez nevertheless has its fans. Alexey Kuzmichev, one of the founders of Alfa Group, acquired villa La Petite Ourse, a comparatively more humble dwelling that still boasts lush grounds and a large a swimming pool. While little is known about the property, Kuzmichev got in a legal row with his architect when he undertook renovation works about a decade ago.

Ownership: Kuzmichev is listed as controlling all shares of the company vehicle used to acquire the real estate, according to France’s registry of beneficiary owners. Kuzmichev declined to comment.

Vadim Moshkovich’s Mansion

Looking onto Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat from the tip of Nice is the mansion of Vadim Moshkovich, founder and controlling shareholder of agricultural conglomerate Ros Agro Plc. It’s unknown when Moshkovich acquired the property.

Ownership: Moshkovich is listed as the 100% beneficiary owner of the company set up to buy the property. He declined to comment.

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