The Chateau Louis XIV, close to Versailles, sold for over $300 million to an anonymous purchaser.CreditPatrice Diaz Photographer
LOUVECIENNES, France — When the Chateau Louis XIV sold for over $300 million two years ago, Fortune magazine referred to as it “the world’s most high-priced residence,” and Town & Country swooned over its gold-leafed fountain, marble statues and hedged labyrinth set in a 57-acre landscaped park. But for all the lavish particulars, one particular reality was missing: the identity of the buyer.
Now, it turns out that the paper trail leads to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir to the Saudi throne and the driving force behind a series of bold policies transforming Saudi Arabia and shaking up the Middle East.
The 2015 buy seems to be one of several extravagant acquisitions — which includes a $500 million yacht and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting — by a prince who is leading a sweeping crackdown on corruption and self-enrichment by the Saudi elite and preaching fiscal austerity at property.
“He has tried to build an image of himself, with a fair quantity of good results, that he is various, that he’s a reformer, at least a social reformer, and that he’s not corrupt,” mentioned Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and author. “And this is a severe blow to that image.”
The story of Chateau Louis XIV, as pieced with each other by way of interviews and documents by The New York Times, unfolds like a economic whodunit, featuring a lawyer in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and a fixer for the really rich from the Mediterranean nation of Malta. Even Kim Kardashian made a cameo at the chateau, reportedly considering it for her wedding to Kanye West.
The ownership of the chateau, in Louveciennes, France, close to Versailles, is very carefully shrouded by shell businesses in France and Luxembourg. Those businesses are owned by Eight Investment Firm, a Saudi firm managed by the head of Crown Prince Mohammed’s individual foundation. Advisers to members of the royal loved ones say the chateau in the end belongs to the crown prince.
Eight Investment was the same business that backed Prince Mohammed’s impulse get of the 440-foot yacht from a Russian vodka tycoon in 2015. The company also recently bought an 620-acre estate in Condé-sur-Vesgre, identified as Le Rouvray, an hour’s drive from Paris. The chateau’s architect is refurbishing the manor property there and constructing structures for an apparent hunting compound, according to permit records at the local town hall.
Versailles Style, Contemporary Amenities
The chateau’s developer, Emad Khashoggi, nephew of the late billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, bulldozed a 19th-century castle in Louveciennes to make way for the new chateau in 2009. To the naked eye it appears to have been built in the time of Versailles, the royal palace that set a world normal for gaudy luxury. But the 17th-century design and style camouflages 21st-century technology. The fountains, sound program, lights and whisper-silent air conditioning can all be controlled remotely by iPhone.
Along with a lot more normal flourishes for best-of-the-line properties, like a wine cellar and film theater, the rotunda characteristics an exquisite fresco on the ceiling while the moat includes a transparent underwater chamber with sturgeon and koi swimming overhead. A statue of Louis XIV created of Carrara marble stands watch over the grounds.
“The notion is tacky, and then after you pay a visit to it is not,” stated Marianne Merlino, who was the town’s deputy mayor for the duration of construction. “Like in Versailles, that was way more than the best also, and like Louis XIV, he accomplished some thing truly very outstanding.”
An Assertive Young Leader
In much less than three years in the public eye, Crown Prince Mohammed, 32, has forged a reputation as an assertive — some critics say reckless — leader. He launched an air campaign in Yemen and spearheaded the blockade of Qatar. Yet he also seems to have won the well-liked assistance of numerous young Saudis for reining in the country’s religious police, promising to give women the correct to drive and announcing that film theaters will be allowed to open once more.
But his swift rise has ruffled some of his elders, particularly when he shoved aside his older cousin to become crown prince. He has come under even far more scrutiny because the arrests last month of practically a dozen of his royal cousins and hundreds of other businessmen or officials, who have been detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, now the world’s most luxurious jail. The government characterized the arrests as a crackdown on corruption but critics have named it a political purge and a shakedown.
Crown Prince Mohammed, in an interview with The New York Instances columnist Thomas L. Friedman, said he anticipated the state to recoup some $one hundred billion in settlements from the detained elite. But he dismissed as “ludicrous” accusations that the arrests had been politically motivated, saying that was the only way to root out corruption and self-dealing.
“So you have to send a signal, and the signal going forward now is, ‘You will not escape,’ ” he said.
Neither he nor the Saudi government responded to requests for comment for this write-up.
Austerity at Property, Luxury Abroad
Even just before the crackdown, unbridled spending by the king’s family, whose income sources stay opaque, had raised eyebrows. With the cost of oil, the main source of the country’s wealth, possessing plummeted from record highs in the past decade, the government has attempted to close yawning price range deficits with economic discipline.
But final year, even as the government canceled a quarter of a trillion dollars’ worth of projects to rein in deficits, King Salman was building a luxurious new vacation palace on the Moroccan coast.
The year prior to, shortly right after he was named deputy crown prince, Prince Mohammed was vacationing in the south of France when he fancied a magnificent yacht with two swimming pools and a helicopter.
A trove of records leaked from a Bermuda law firm, identified as the Paradise Papers, reveal how platoons of lawyers, bankers and accountants in Germany, Bermuda and the Isle of Man worked furiously to rapidly transfer ownership to Eight Investment. The value, according to drafts of the contract, was 420 million euros, or $494 million in today’s dollars — even more than that for the chateau.
Emails amongst the lawyers mentioned the yacht would be owned by a Cayman Islands organization named Pegasus VIII, which was developed in 2014 when Prince Mohammed was reported to have purchased an additional yacht, renamed the Pegasus VIII. That yacht expense about $60 million, according to the seller, Ronald Tutor, a California investor.
Last month, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Salvator Mundi” sold for $450.three million to an anonymous buyer, the highest price for any perform of art sold at auction. The buyer, The Times identified, turned out to be an obscure Saudi prince with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed. Individuals familiar with the sale and American intelligence officials stated he was acting on behalf of the crown prince.
The Saudi government later disputed that report, saying variously that the Saudi buyer acted as an agent for Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, exactly where the painting will hang at the new branch of the Louvre, or that the crown prince had purchased the painting to give to Abu Dhabi. Folks familiar with the specifics insist the crown prince was the genuine buyer at the time of the sale.
Even though the spending habits of Saudi princes have been chronicled for decades, the Paradise Papers as nicely as the Panama Papers, both released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, supply new details. Crown Prince Mohammed’s wealth, vast as it is, represents only a portion of the riches accumulated by King Salman’s branch of the Home of Saud.
In addition to two stately properties in London connected to King Salman, his son, Prince Turki bin Salman, is listed as the guarantor of an Isle of Man company that sold a penthouse apartment a short stroll from Westminster Abbey for more than $35 million in 2014. Prince Sultan bin Salman, a half brother of the crown prince and the first Arab in outer space, purchased a luxury Boeing jet that generally expenses much more than $one hundred million by way of an offshore shell firm.
King Salman’s vast compound on Spain’s southern coast is owned by two Panamanian businesses, which are in turn controlled by a Luxembourg firm belonging to the king and his young children. Yet another holding organization, based in the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, owns the king’s villa on the French Riviera, exactly where the actress Rita Hayworth celebrated her marriage in 1949.
Peeling the Layers of Ownership
The two new French properties, Chateau Louis XIV and Le Rouvray, are owned by two French companies. These companies are owned by a Luxembourg business, Prestigestate SARL, which is in turn owned by Eight Investment. Thamer Nassief, who lists his occupation on LinkedIn as “President of Crown Prince Private Affairs,” is a manager of each Prestigestate and Eight Investment.
Eight Investment, according to documents from the Bermudan law firm Appleby, is “owned by members of the Saudi Royal Family,” and its “wealth is derived from the King and the state.”
The 3 listed shareholders are Bader Al Asaker, who heads the crown prince’s individual foundation Hazim Mustafa Zagzoog, the head of private affairs for King Salman and Bader Ali al-Kohail, the Saudi ambassador to the Maldives, the Indian Ocean archipelago exactly where the crown prince hosted a series of lavish parties featuring the rapper Pitbull and the South Korean singer Psy.
Chateau Louis XIV is one of several castles in Louveciennes, which includes a single that belonged to Madame du Barry, the chief mistress of Louis XV. The town was later well-liked with Impressionist painters and is now an affluent suburb of Paris.
‘The Dream of His Life’
Town officials who worked with Mr. Khashoggi on the project described it as a close to obsession. “Khashoggi stated it was the dream of his life to make a factor like that,” mentioned Ms. Merlino, the former deputy mayor. “He wanted to do the best in each field and he did.” Mr. Khashoggi declined via a spokeswoman to comment.
Some of the most lavish work, like the gilding, was performed by Atelier Mériguet-Carrère, which restored the Élysée Palace and the Palais Garnier opera home in Paris. The head of the firm, Antoine Courtois, stated he could not comment on the function simply because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement.
Hans Cauchi, a Maltese hospitality executive who caters to the superwealthy, applied for developing permits to reconstruct the stables, a ruin on the edge of the estate, into a villa with a man-created pond, and to construct a new guardhouse modeled on a rustic house constructed for Marie Antoinette at Versailles.
Véronique Skrotzky, who employed to forage for mushrooms when the run-down old chateau stood in its location, lamented that the owner by no means seemed to remain there, and that the property and grounds had been closed to the public.
“Before it was a ruin only for ghosts,” she stated. “Now it is brand new for ghosts.”
Published at Sat, 16 Dec 2017 14:38:04 +0000