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In Abramovich’s World, $47,000 Buys a Square Meter of Space

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In Abramovich’s World, $47,000 Buys a Square Meter of Space

  • Russian lost latest bid on tax bill over French holiday home
  • France assessed his Château de la Croë to request extra taxes
Billionaire Abramovich Faces $1.4 M Cap d'Antibes Tax Bill

Shortly after Roman Abramovich bought the Château de la Croë property about a decade ago on the exclusive Cap d’Antibes peninsula in the south of France, the taxman came knocking.

The Russian billionaire, French authorities said, had undervalued the holiday home and hadn’t paid enough wealth tax in 2006 and 2007. The tax agency valued the property at about 41,000 euros ($47,000) per square meter by comparing it to asset sales of similar caliber in the vicinity around that time.

Since then, Abramovich has been trying various ways to get out of paying the 1.2 million-euro bill presented by authorities. His latest endeavor, which included a complaint that the new tax paperwork wasn’t delivered to him personally, was rejected Sept. 26 by France’s top court.

Roman Abramovich

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Built in the late 1920s for a newspaper magnate on a thin stretch of land now identified as Billionaire’s Bay, the chateau is known for having been the residence of several crowned heads. King Edward VIII moved in just after he controversially abdicated in 1937 to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. King Leopold III of Belgium, the last Queen of Italy, and Farouk I of Egypt, also lived there.

The mansion 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’s acquisition.

Abramovich spokesman John Mann declined to comment on the issue.

Luxury Comparisons

In his lawsuits, the Russian argued that the French tax administration largely overvalued the property’s price by comparing it to luxury houses in much more expensive locations.

The judges at the Cour de Cassation were unfazed. They ruled that the tax agency was correct in comparing the Château de la Croë to other properties sold around the time in the areas of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cap d’Ail and Antibes. Those similar estates included Villa Fiorentina, once occupied over the years by the Kennedys, Elizabeth Taylor and Greta Garbo. In late 2004, it sold for over 73 million euros -- value added tax included.

Abramovich’s holiday home sits isolated at the tip of the Cap d’Antibes with a panoramic sea view. The property spans more than 75,000 square meters (807,000 square feet) with a living area of over 2,400 square meters in the chateau and a guest pavilion.

Renovations

A year earlier, the Paris court of appeal had already dismissed similar arguments put forward by Abramovich by citing an architect expertise report from 2005 that highlighted the extraordinary nature of his chateau.

“This property is certainly the most beautiful on the Côte d’Azur between Saint-Raphaël and Italy,” the expert report read. “No other has this level of luxury and elegance.”

Abramovich also complained that the French administration failed to properly take into account the money he spent on renovating the property -- a total of 150 million euros over the years, including 30 million euros in 2005. The authorities countered by saying the price per square meter they reached includes a 30 percent rebate for 2006 and a 20 percent rebate for 2007.

Russian Cash

Besides London, there is perhaps nowhere that better encapsulates the flight of Russian cash than the Cap d’Antibes. A peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea just east of Cannes, in the 1990s it began attracting Russians such as the late Boris Berezovsky. In the following decade several other properties were snapped up with the arrival of Abramovich, Andrey Melnichenko and a Swiss businessman that authorities in France suspect was a front for Russian Senator Suleyman Kerimov.

This caused property prices to skyrocket. A square meter of luxury property in that exclusive Riviera area went up from about 20,000 euros in 2000-2001 to as much as 53,000 euros in 2005-2006, according to an estimation from the French tax administration in the Abramovich lawsuit.

— With assistance by Alexander Sazonov, and Stephanie Baker

(Adds details on Cap d’Antibes properties starting in 13th paragraph.)