We are talking, as Le Monde writes, about money laundering. According to the publication, businessman Nikolai Sarkisov bought real estate in Courchevel with the help of a loan from Bernard Arnault. What is illegal about this and how the investigation will affect reputation one of the wealthiest people in the world?
In December 2022, the French financial intelligence unit of the French Ministry of Economy Tracfin sent to the Lyon prosecutor’s office a note about the head of LVMH Bernard Arnault and Russian businessman Nikolai Sarkisov. The document, which Le Monde was able to see, lists transactions that may amount to money laundering.
The publication writes that the co-owner of the insurance company RESO-Garantia purchased 14 housing units from one seller in 2018 for 16 million euros as part of a complex deal involving companies based in France, Luxembourg and Cyprus. However, his name does not appear in the books of the company that made the purchase. It is believed that a company called La Fleche bought three more properties from another company also owned by Sarkisov. According to the newspaper, the sale to himself allowed the Russian to acquire about 1.2 million euros.
Arnault is suspected of lending Sarkisov more than 18 million euros for this deal. He is then believed to have purchased La Fleche, effectively becoming the owner of the property portfolio. Investigators believe that Sarkisov earned 2 million euros from the operation, but they still do not know how much he paid for the loan. The change in ownership may have been intended to “conceal the exact origin of the funds” as well as the identity of the “ultimate beneficiary”, i.e. Arnault.
What is the reason for such close attention to the figure of Arno? Expert in the field of international and American law Alexander Treshchev comments:
“The strange thing about this deal is not that he received a loan from one of Arnault’s companies, but that the money was received from Luxembourg and Cyprus. There are offshore companies there. All European financial intelligence agencies, as soon as they see that some money has arrived, look at these transactions through a magnifying glass, since, as a rule, this is associated with money laundering. A very delicate investigation is being conducted taking into account Arnault’s personality, but the very fact of communicating and lending money to Russian businessmen casts a shadow on this man and does not make an exception for him from the French Themis.”
Le Monde reported that the investigation is focusing on the purchase of more than a dozen apartments in the ski resort of Courchevel, where Arnault’s LVMH conglomerate and related holding structures own several large properties.
According to family lore, Arno has a special connection with Courchevel. It was there that he learned to ski as a child and now owns a mansion and the luxurious Cheval Blanc Hotel. This is the abode of a billionaire, where the price of a hotel night can reach several tens of thousands of euros per night. And it is one of the leading assets in Arnault’s real estate portfolio. Today, the LVMH CEO’s fortune is estimated at $212 billion. According to Forbes, he ranks first.
The investigation has been ongoing since December 2022. Information about Arnault’s participation in the deal has appeared in the media more than once. At the end of September – for a relatively long time – again. According to Dmitry Misurkin, a member of the bureau of the Association of Russian-speaking Guides and Translators of France, this is due to the upcoming elections in the country:
“France is now entering the electoral period. Accordingly, people decide their political issues. The usual behind-the-scenes struggle. The media are not independent. They express the political and economic interests of certain groups. Further, depending on the complex connections, this topic is discussed. Until today, the LVMH group was inaccessible due to the fact that Bernard Arnault refrains from political statements, is engaged in business, does not particularly shine, behaves extremely decently, and is involved in charity work. Moreover, he is on good terms with the family of the current head of state. Therefore, this is not an easy topic, even a sensitive one.”
The French financial intelligence service Tracfin did not establish that a crime had been committed. Experts say it is unlikely that a criminal case will be filed. This is more like another scandal that shows the whole world that dealing with Russian business is now risky.
In response to a TASS request, Sarkisov’s lawyers admitted the reality of these transactions, but did not name the acquirer, describing it as “a very well-known French real estate group owned by a large French holding company,” and the businessman himself had no relation to the transactions, never met personally with Bernard Arnault, and the operations were carried out by his holding teams responsible for real estate investments in Europe.
Business FM also sent a request to Nikolay Sarkisov.